Help women leave gang life at the Homegirl Cafe!

by Homeboy Industries
Homegirl Cafe at Culver Studios
Homegirl Cafe at Culver Studios

Homegirl Café isn’t just a safe space for women leaving gang life to learn job skills—it’s also one of Homeboy Industries’ most successful social enterprises, bringing in more than $890,000 last year (its sister enterprise, Homegirl Catering, did an additional $600,000). That’s why Homeboy Industries jumped at the chance to open a new Homegirl Café at the historic Culver Studios.

The new outpost, which opened in July, offers menu items like chilaquiles, quinoa pancakes, and chicken mole, in addition to treats from Homeboy Bakery.

Expanding our social enterprises helps raise money to fund the services that make transformation possible: case management, education, legal assistance, mental health services, and employment services. Yet because we overstaff all our businesses for training purposes, we are still reliant on (and grateful for!) community members who support our mission.

It’s because of our supporters that café trainees like Fallon can say: “Homeboy is a blessing, but it’s more like home. It’s my safe haven.”

Food prep at Homegirl Cafe
Food prep at Homegirl Cafe
Joe (left) and Fallon
Joe (left) and Fallon
Brunch at the Homeboy 5K
Brunch at the Homeboy 5K
Homegirl Cafe staff pointing to our Zagat sign
Homegirl Cafe staff pointing to our Zagat sign

Homeboy Industries’ culinary training program provided job training and wrap-around support for 78 former gang members and previously incarcerated individuals between July 1 and December 31, 2014. All trainees work closely with case managers to determine goals and create roadmaps to meeting those goals. They participate in classes ranging from Anger Management to Pathways to College. Individual therapy and support groups for substance abuse, domestic violence, and other issues help trainees deal with deep-rooted struggles that often result from traumatic childhoods.

The combination of rigorous job training and a therapeutic environment has facilitated true transformation for people like Karla, who had several roles at Homeboy Industries and worked her way up to a position at Homegirl Café. Upon graduation she went through a lengthy interview process to secure a job at Marriott Hotels, where her strong work ethic and effervescent personality quickly impressed staff and guests. Two recent Homeboy culinary graduates, Selina and Javier, were accepted into internships at the prestigious Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills and subsequently were hired full-time.

Homeboy’s commitment to facilitating change for society’s most marginalized people is unwavering. As Homeboy founder Fr. Greg Boyle tells trainees, “What gets melted away here is all the stuff that people aren’t. What’s left is your brilliance.”

Homeboy Food Truck
Homeboy Food Truck

Since its opening in 2007, Homegirl Café has been a destination for Angelenos who enjoy “Mexican food with a twist.” The café is also a safe, encouraging training ground for the women who work there. Under the leadership Café Manager Arlin Crane, Homegirl Café is constantly trying new things; last year we began selling tamales made from scratch for the holidays, in keeping with Mexican tradition. We also invite volunteer groups to participate in “tamaladas,” tamale-making parties at which former gang members and volunteers work side by side, sharing food and stories.

Homeboy Industries also recently launched the Homeboy Food Truck, which employs several alumni from Homegirl Café. The truck specializes in chilaquiles—fried tortilla strips with toppings like red mole chicken, chipotle skirt steak, veggies, and cotija cheese—and also serves up tacos, sandwiches, and pastries.

In the past year, 39 trainees have worked at Homegirl Café and received wrap-around services at Homeboy Industries, including case management, education, counseling, and tattoo removal. Fifty trainees (including café workers and those in our other food-related social enterprises) received California ServSafe Food Handler’s permits. Homeboy graduates went on to work for companies such as DeLuscious Cookies, Little Mama’s Café, and Robek’s Juice.

Delicious food is a means to a more important end: helping women who’ve faced nearly impossible hardships rediscover their own worth. A trainee named Lily recently said she now tries to see her the challenges she’s faced “not as my enemy but my dearest friend, allowing it to bring out the best…. Homeboy Industries has allowed me to accept my past as a wonderful part of me. It helped me see my strengths and how important I am.”

Homegirl Cafe alumna Laneshia
Homegirl Cafe alumna Laneshia

At Homeboy we maintain that “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job,” but it takes a village to build real careers. That’s where our Employment Services department comes in: They maintain relationships with dozens of “felon-friendly” companies and help place Homeboy alumni (as well as other community members who seek out our services) in jobs that match their skills and interests.

Homeboy’s partner companies agree with Father Greg, who often says to trainees, “You are not the worst thing you’ve ever done.” Thanks to our partners’ firm belief in second chances, Homegirl Cafe trainees have gone on to work in restaurants, grocery stores, and more. Laneshia, pictured above, got hired as a chef at a Beverly Hills restaurant when she finished her 18-month training program at Homegirl Café.

In the first quarter of 2014:

  • 5 Homeboy trainees received a California ServSafe Foodhandler’s permit.
  • 18 trainees participated in resume-building sessions.
  • 14 trainees participated in mock interviews.
  • 18 trainees participated in interviews for outside jobs.
  • 11 trainees were placed in supermarket or grocery store jobs.

Homegirl Café trainees learn every aspect of food service, from ordering ingredients from wholesalers to working as a line cook to waiting tables. They’ve also been adding new menu items with help from Café Manager Arlin Crane. Gluten-free guests can now get tacos on nopal (cactus) leaves instead of a tortilla, and the Peruvian beans were an instant hit.

Homegirl Café trainees learn every aspect of food service, from ordering ingredients from wholesalers to working as a line cook to waiting tables. They’ve also been adding new menu items with help from Café Manager Arlin Crane. Gluten-free guests can now get tacos on nopal (cactus) leaves instead of a tortilla, and the Peruvian beans were an instant hit.


Homegirl Cafe workers at last year
Homegirl Cafe workers at last year's Lo Maximo

Each year Homeboy Industries, which provides support and job training for formerly gang involved and previously incarcerated men and women, celebrates the achievements of its trainees at the Lo Maximo Awards, our annual benefit dinner. It’s an exciting night for the senior staff, trainees, and generous donors who attend. Trainees love dressing up in their finest gowns and suits (many of which are donated by Homeboy supporters) and being recognized for positive accomplishments. Lo Maximo, which means “the best of the best” in Spanish, is especially meaningful to trainees who may have only gotten attention in the past when they were in trouble.

This year the women of Homegirl Café are taking a leadership role. Café Manager Arlin Crane reports that, for the first time, they’ve planned every detail of the event, from the recipes for the reception to the table designs. And they’ve done it all while taking the difficult steps necessary to transform their lives: attending classes and 12-step meetings, seeking counseling, removing tattoos, and more. In the past few months, three Homegirl Café trainees have gotten their drivers’ licenses. Another regained custody of her daughter from the foster care system.

It’s all in a day’s work at Homegirl Café.


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Organization Information

Homeboy Industries

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Stephen Lucasi
Grants Manager
Los Angeles, CA United States

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