Local Restaurants Discuss Community Engagement for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

As part of our efforts to amplify civic engagement, we interviewed four restaurant owners about what it means to service their communities.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist, a leader of the civil rights movement, and one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. His vision for an equitable world and the emancipation of all people stands as a beacon of what we can be. And today, people all over the world celebrate his legacy by supporting their communities, promoting equal rights, and recognizing the work he did to propel us forward. 

As part of our efforts to recognize his contributions and use our platform to amplify civic engagement, we have interviewed four restaurant owners about what it means to service their communities during these difficult times, between this moment in civil rights and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim Prince

Chef + Owner, Hotville Chicken

What changes has your restaurant been through lately?

The past 6 months has found Hotville Chicken hitting its stride. It’s been a struggle but I can say “we’re still frying.” 

We’ve been embraced by our community and gotten to know our neighbors well. I’d like to think the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw community is proud to have a Black-owned/woman-owned business on the block. 

How have you been connecting with your community?

We’re partnering with other woman-owned businesses, schools, non-profits, and churches in the area. Our City Councilman, Marqueece Harris Dawson, and his team have been a tremendous source of support by including us in a 13-week emergency COVID-19 meal program for senior citizens in our district. We’ve fed first responders and frontline medical workers, homeless teens at Covenant House in Hollywood, and provided meals by the hundreds through local churches. 

What does Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you and your restaurant?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will forever represent what it means to live out a dream. He didn’t just sleep on the visions of freedom he had. He got up and exercised every right, utilized every resource, and pursued the freedoms I now have access to today. When I wake every morning I’m proud to be in the skin I’m in—kissed by the sun and blessed by God to get up and do what I’m passionately purposed to do for others. I’d like to think he would be proud to see me, and so many other Black businesses, freely serving everyone.

 

Doug Hewitt

Co-Founder and CEO, 1951 Coffee Company

What changes has your restaurant been through lately? 

We had to adjust to the new normal of a to go only business model. As an organization that gives refugees job opportunities, the pandemic caused us to have to pause our training programs that provide jobs in the coffee industry to dozens of refugees each year.  

How have you been connecting with your community? 

While we could not operate our cafes and training programs in the same ways we have, our community kept us going through donations, online coffee orders, and virtual screenings of a short film about our work, No Single Origin. This enabled us to continue to advocate for the needs of refugees and stay connected to the community so that we could continue to be a resource hub for those in need. We shifted our assistance operations from trainings to helping our over 220 graduates navigate food insecurity, housing insecurity, and a loss of income due to lack of employment. 

What does Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you and your restaurant? 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. represents creating a fair and equal society. For the US to be a welcoming place for refugees, we must be a place of equality and justice. Refugees are fleeing their countries due to persecution, inequality, war, and descrimination. Dr. King’s call, at its core, is a call for America to live up to the ideals that we hold to be foundational to who we are. Only when this is recognized can we with true honest hearts be a place of refuge for the oppressed and hurting in the world.

 

Kevin Bludso

Chef + Owner, Bludso’s Bar & Que

What changes has your restaurant been through lately?

It has been a major challenge—some of the toughest months ever for restaurant owners. But we’ve always tried to treat our customers like family, and family is always there for you. Our customers keep coming back. Working together is the only way we get through this.

How have you been connecting with your community?

We love being there for our community in so many ways. Jobs, donations, scholarships. Sometimes just a shoulder to cry on. Understanding that to whom much is given, much will be required. It goes well beyond lunchtime! 

What does Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you and your restaurant? 

Without Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there would be no Bludso’s—I wouldn’t have been allowed to open it. If it wasn’t for MLK, a little curly haired boy out of Compton born in 1965 would not be allowed to dream real dreams. Without MLK, I would not understand that no matter what the circumstances are, love always conquers hate! Without MLK, I would not understand my duties as a restaurant owner. I have to do more than just feed the body, I have to feed minds and souls. 

 

Duane and Cary Earle

Chefs + Owners, Earle’s on Crenshaw

What changes has your restaurant been through lately?

Serving the community through quality food and service for 30 years, the past 9 months inspired us to shift into a position of more responsibility. 

How have you been connecting with your community?

Missing the human element and interpersonal service we were used to, we sought new ways to comfort and offer sustenance to our neighbors and patrons. We established a nonprofit (Earle’s Cares) and began delivering free meals to our elderly neighbors sheltering in place as well as first responders. We also established a weekly socially-distant food fair, Earle’s Meatless Mondays, providing healthier food options from local small businesses to our community that has been plagued as a food desert.  

What does Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. mean to you and your restaurant?

This will be the first year the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Los Angeles parade won’t pass our front doors due to COVID-19, but that isn’t the only day we celebrate Dr. King’s impact. Our regular customers come from all walks of life and the web of diverse family we’ve built is exemplary of Dr. King’s vision.