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At Leimert Park’s Hot and Cool Cafe, Stomachs and Souls Are Fed

With a number of Black-owned businesses affected by COVID-19, the last few months found many eatery owners needing to look for creative ways to make money. Takeout and pick-up became the norm, with some establishments even offering new packaged meals (some with the option of toilet paper or hard-to-come-by pantry essentials included).

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But for Anthony Jolly, owner of Leimert Park’s Hot and Cool Cafe, adapting to the pandemic wasn’t just about keeping business afloat, although that’s naturally top of mind. It was about utilizing the space to still foster community in whatever way he and his team could.

The cafe, opened by Jolly in 2018, has continually offered the community art, music and culture. Efforts like these became embedded in the way that the café approached care for the neighborhood. The location has also offered free and reduced-price vegan meals and recently partnered with the office of Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson to cook and distribute food to senior citizens.

Jolly has always nurtured a community-centric spirit. Three years ago, he got involved with Black Arts Los Angeles; the team started calling Juneteenth Black Independence Day a few years ago. When Juneteenth took place this year, Jolly wanted to make sure a community event took place despite the pandemic.

“In the wake of what happened in Minneapolis with George Floyd — and, you know, there's a lot of activism going on — I felt that we needed to proceed with Juneteenth celebrations,” Jolly tells “Southland Sessions.”

A performance at Hot and Cool Cafe | Courtesy of Hot and Cool Cafe
A performance at Hot and Cool Cafe | Courtesy of Hot and Cool Cafe

For the celebration this year, he collaborated with artist Six Sev, creator of Pray for the Hood, an initiative that curates events supporting Black-run businesses, and volunteers. Jolly says Leimert Park Rising attracted about 5,000 people to come to Leimert Park Village with $600,000 in income realized by the vendors. 80% of participating vendors, including Hot and Cool Cafe, sold out of their goods completely.

“I felt like Black people needed to gather and give each other a hug… It was what African-Americans needed at this time during the in-your-face activism that's going on right now,” says Jolly. “We needed to love on each other. We felt that we weren't being loved.”

A performance at Hot and Cool Cafe | Courtesy of Hot and Cool Cafe
A performance at Hot and Cool Cafe | Courtesy of Hot and Cool Cafe

Before the pandemic, the café consistently supported artists and creators by not only making the space to gather but by showcasing their talents. Jolly says the space hosted events almost daily — from comedy to live music. The space announced new menu items in tandem with upcoming artists of the month, using social media to spread the word. It also hosted a Black Strings Night, organized by Lila Hood.

After the killing of Elijah McClain, Hood reached out to Jolly, asking if they could use the alleyway next to the café for a violin vigil (to coincide with the same event in Colorado). Hood set up hula hoops to indicate where each violin player would stand, within social distance guidelines. Some brought stands for their music sheets; others played without them. They joined together for "Amazing Grace," the notes from their strings reverberating through the air. The event nearly brought Jolly to tears.

Despite the restrictions on gathering, creatives keep finding ways to get involved. Kissa Starr, creator of Eats and Giggles Comedy Show, proposed another idea to Jolly: a one-stop-shop for plants in the café. Jolly says the idea turned into a 15-foot hand-crafted display of plants to display Starr's products under the brand name Plants and Teas.

A woman holding her plant, as well as her baby | Courtesy of Plants and Teas
A woman holding her plant, as well as her baby | Courtesy of Plants and Teas

"We can't keep them in," says Jolly. "People are coming in, and they're looking for these plants, and they're taking them home, and I can understand why… they need life around."

This becomes especially important to the area since, as Jolly points out, “there’s nowhere you can buy plants” nearby. The café will soon add even more health-related items on the menu, including medicinal teas.

A woman kissing her beloved plant | Courtesy of Plants and Teas
A woman kissing her beloved plant | Courtesy of Plants and Teas

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In working with so many creatives from different backgrounds, Jolly hopes to keep bringing the Black community together. He’s now strung lights in the alleyway next to the café, officially turning it into The Alley, which has been hosting Community Burger Night, DJ sets, comedy nights and more.

A performance at Hot and Cool Cafe's The Alley | Courtesy of Hot and Cool Cafe
A performance at Hot and Cool Cafe's The Alley | Courtesy of Hot and Cool Cafe

Jolly knows the community needs creative ways to connect and a means of expression. He says his kids use their imaginations first thing in the morning, sometimes painting as early as seven o'clock, or coming up with their own games. As he sees artists adapt to a new and strange reality, he sees the value of their work through another lens, too.

"Pre-COVID, we were really experiencing an arts renaissance in L.A. from the street art to what was in LACMA, what was at all the premiere museums here in L.A.," says Jolly. "And what the kids were producing individually in canvas and then fashion. It was mind-boggling. It was extensive. The art today is going to represent the times, along with the news... so we try our best to keep that platform open."

When you enter the café, you can read the phrase: "If it ain't hot, if it ain't cool, it ain't here." Even amid a global pandemic, when the café can't quite open its doors in the same way, that ethos still rings true. 

Top Image: Colored lights lit | Jordan McDonald / Unsplash

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