The Los Angeles LGBT Center announced the grand opening of Liberation Coffee House this coming Monday, August 17. The new 1,600-square-foot retail coffee shop is located at the Center’s Anita May Rosenstein Campus, 6725 Santa Monica Boulevard.
The community space will be operated and staffed by graduates of the organization’s intergenerational Culinary Arts program, a three-month training program launched in 2019 to prepare LGBTQ youth and seniors from the Center for employment in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Revenue from this unique social enterprise will be reinvested into the Center’s life-changing and life-saving programs and services.
“When many nonprofits have closed as a result of COVID-19, the Los Angeles LGBT Center has persevered,” said Center CEO Lorri L. Jean. “Not only have we continued to provide vital services as first-responders on the front lines, but we have also developed new programs in response to the pandemic—and we never skipped a beat in completing our long-planned café,”
“Connecting community is at the heart of the Center, and we couldn’t be more excited about this moment of progress,” she added. “We are opening with less fanfare than we had imagined and shifting how the Liberation Coffee House will operate during the pandemic, but the heart and soul of this incredible social enterprise is happening just as we dreamed: connecting LGBTQ seniors and youth to work together in creating delicious food and drink for our entire community. We invite everyone to come and enjoy a taste of Liberation!”
The word “liberation” shares a special connection with the LGBT community. During the movement’s early years, activists demanded “gay liberation.” In 1971 the Center, known then as the Gay Community Services Center, opened its first “Liberation House” in Los Angeles, providing room and board for $1.50 a day for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults. It was the nation’s first facility of its kind. By 1972, six Liberation Houses were open throughout Los Angeles.
A photograph of the 1971 Liberation House is part of the collection of enlarged black-and-white historical Center photographs adorning the walls throughout the café.
“It’s liberation for a new generation at the Center,” said Center Director of Culinary Training and Operations Nick Panepinto. “We’re opening an LGBTQ space where everyone is welcome while, at the same time, expanding the opportunities for our LGBTQ seniors and youth who are part of the Culinary Arts program. Our program’s students are already using our state-of-the-art commercial kitchen at the Campus to prepare hundreds of meals a day for the Center’s clients. Now, through Liberation Coffee House, we can provide expanded training and permanent employment opportunities to program graduates—all while preparing delicious food and beverages for everyone to enjoy.”
In addition to serving Verve Coffee, Rishi Tea, and pastries by locally-owned Bakers Kneaded, the café will sell grab-and-go salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, and other gourmet food items made entirely by Culinary Arts students.
“It’s all been very intentional—from our partners and the products we’re serving to the design of the space and staff that we’re hiring—to foster pride, passion, and warmth in this community-driven space,” said Center Manager of Café and Catering Erin Muscatelli. “It’s a really good way to introduce the Center to the outside community who might not know a lot about us.”
A celebration of the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles also inspired the design choices of the Liberation Coffee House. The interior palette of red, orange, yellow and green—which represent life, healing, sunlight, and nature, respectively, as part of the LGBTQ Pride flag—reference the positive, optimistic, and free spirit of the LGBTQ community and Los Angeles. A series of overlapping shear fabric panels hung along the café’s floor-to-ceiling windows create a gradient of color reminiscent of California’s spectacular sunsets.
“The café’s interior space was inspired by artist Keith Haring whose vivid colors and simple lines evoke energy and life. Building on this framework, the soft-curved architectural elements of the café’s walls and furnishing represent the notion of fluidity,” said architect and designer Oonagh Ryan at ORA. “The Center’s brief was to create a space that is welcoming to all, and our response was to create a flexible space that is fun, approachable, and accommodating to a variety of uses. We very much enjoyed our collaboration with the Center to make this project come to life, and we wish the very best to them and Liberation Coffee House.”
While the day‐to‐day use is a retail coffee shop, Liberation Coffee House’s agile space layout can be reconfigured quickly to accommodate gallery openings, meetings, lectures, celebrations, networking mixers, and other community events.
Liberation Coffee House will be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Hours of operation may change based on city and county mandates pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety precautions in accordance with all COVID-19 regulations have been implemented, including the installation of plexiglass windows at the ordering counter; availability of hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes; cashless payments by way of credit and debit cards; and the closure of indoor seating. Social distancing and face coverings will be enforced for all café team members and customers.
For the latest news about Liberation Coffee House, visit www.liberationcoffee.org.