[June 17, 2021: Clara Harter]
‘Kindness first, coffee second’ is the motto of the bright and dreamy La La Land Kind Cafe that recently opened on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, California.
Any customer who walks through the door is guaranteed to receive a compliment by at least one of several beaming staff members. The founder, Francois Reihani, hopes that this customer will then go on and compliment someone else, sending a ripple effect of goodwill throughout the community.
The company’s ultimate goal is ‘normalize kindness’ and a key part of the mission is to empower foster youth who have aged out of the system, by providing them with employment and mentorship opportunities.
Many foster youths end up living on the streets after they turn 18, as they often come from traumatic backgrounds and lack support networks.
Reihani initially thought he could help these youths by providing a combination of therapy, housing, mentorship, help with schooling, and job placement.
However, the last piece proved more difficult than he anticipated. Youths both struggled to get jobs with nothing on their resume and then when they could receive jobs, the stresses and lack of training proved difficult to handle.
This led Reihani to create an eight week paid internship program at La La Land Cafe, where foster youths are lovingly mentored and trained.
“Youth come in and get to really soak in and learn what it means to have a first job, instead of coming in and being panicked by having to learn everything so quickly,” said Reihani. “We wanted to not only create a place where we could hire and mentor these kids, but also create a model that other businesses can replicate.”
The program has been rolled out at the three La La Land Cafes in Dallas, where the company was founded. So far 15 youths have completed the program and several have decided to stay on as full time staff.
The new Santa Monica location is in the process of onboarding three youths. Reihani grew up in Los Angeles and worked his first job in Santa Monica when he was 18.
“Santa Monica really wants to make the world better. It’s a very caring place, and we thought that we would mesh well with that,” said Reihani, explaining what drew him to the Montana location.
“We want to make sure that we make everyone happy,” said Reihani. “There’s something on the menu that you’re going to love, whether you order the most serious cappuccino on earth, or you order our butterfly latte that is blue and literally tastes like fruity pebbles.”
Despite the care and precision put into each tea and coffee, Reihani maintains that the mission of spreading kindness is always paramount.
“If you walk in and if you get the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had in your life and we didn’t do anything else for you, for us it’s a failure,” said Reihani.
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