By Greg Hernandez
Sitting at a corner table inside Liberation Coffee House on Wednesday, John Blyth finished up his Caesar chicken salad and was thinking about making his way back to the front counter to buy a donut.
“I needed to have lunch, be able to sit down, and do what you have to do in a café,” explained Blyth, whose table was covered with paperwork. “It’s nice to be able to do that here.”
The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s 1,600-square-foot retail café opened last August at the Center’s flagship Anita May Rosenstein Campus, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from offering indoor seating—until now.
“It’s great to see how the guests are using the space. They’re coming in to work on their laptops and getting really comfortable,” said Center Manager of Café and Catering Erin Muscatelli. “We’re very excited about adding our communal tables soon because it will help people to congregate, get to know each other, and communicate like the world was doing before COVID.”
The café serves Verve Coffee, Rishi Tea, and pastries from locally-owned Bakers Kneaded. The menu of hot and cold sandwiches, flatbreads, salads, breakfast burritos, various bowls, and other gourmet grab-and-go food items are made entirely by students of the Center’s intergenerational Culinary Arts program which prepares the Center’s LGBTQ youth and seniors for employment in the restaurant and hospitality industries. The café is staffed and operated by graduates of the program.
if that isn’t impressive enough, proceeds from all café purchases are reinvested into the Center’s programs and services.
Customer Mel Hill was happy to finally come in and sit down inside thevibrant interior space to enjoy an iced coffee. For months, he says, he’d been curious about the café on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and McCadden Place.
“I’d been driving past it for work, but this is the first time I’ve been able to get here during my off hours. I happened to be done with my work for the day. I was passing by and thought I’d come on in,” Hill shared. “It’s a very nice place to come in and relax. It’s a very inclusive space, and it’s nice to patronize a place that benefits the Center.”
Hoda Mehr, who lives nearby, also recently made her first visit to the café where she and a friend had lunch.
“I made it a point to come here after reading about it online,” Mehr said. “I didn’t know if the coffee was good, but I wanted to try it. Everything was delicious!”
Although customers were limited to carryout orders and a few outdoor tables during the previous nine months, café staff still have gotten to know their neighbors.
“We feel this coffee shop is like an anchor,” said Muscatelli. “Since we’ve been open throughout the pandemic, we’ve been able to educate people about the Center because they’re curious about us.”
Customers can’t miss the artwork adorning the café’s walls: black-and-white historical photographs chronicling the Center’s history, including the first “Liberation House” opened in 1971. Known then as the Gay Community Services Center, the Center provided room and board for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults at these Liberation Houses—a piece of history which inspired the café’s name.
“Liberation Coffee House is about creating welcome and acceptance, and it’s a great way to help tell the story of our past,” explained Nick Panepinto, the Center’s Director of Culinary Training and Operations.
Pride Month Promotions
Aside from the indoor seating, excitement is brewing at the café because of Pride month. Food delivery service company Postmates has partnered with the shop to exclusively sell the Cooper Pride Box, a half-dozen classic donuts to commemorate the 1959 riots which took place at the original Cooper Do-nuts in downtown Los Angeles.
Sixty-two years ago, Cooper Do-nuts’ customers—mostly LGBT people—fought back against police who continually harassed them. The Cooper Do-nuts Riot, as it would later be known, occurred 10 years before the Stonewall riots in New York City.
Other Pride promotions include:
- The Pie Hole has donated its signature “Pie Holes” to be sold inside Liberation Coffee House. The round bites of pie crust are filled with such flavors as Strawberry, Blueberry Crumble, Caramel Apple, Mexican Chocolate, andNutella. The local community pie shop and bakery institution is also selling “Rainbow Flag Pie Holes” this month in bundles of 4, 6, and 12 (ranging from $10-$30) in all of its locations with the proceeds benefiting the Center.
- Premier apron manufacturer Hedley & Bennett is donating a portion of sales of its PRIDE Apron to the Center. Featuring two-toned waist straps dipped in rainbow colors, the fashionably elegant aprons are being modeled this month by Liberation Coffee House employees. Stop by to check them out!
Liberation Coffee House is located at 6725 Santa Monica Boulevard. Open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. For more information, visit liberationcoffee.org