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Soul Pursuit

SMALL BUSINESS | LEARNING CURVE: JACOBS' CAFE

Cafe Stays True to Itself as It Adapts

September 03, 1996

Caroline Jacobs-Celestine's family has run Jacobs' Cafe--a restaurant in South-Central Los Angeles that specializes in soul food--since 1947. The demographics of the neighborhood have changed dramatically over the last 50 years, but the cafe continues to draw customers from the community. Jacobs-Celestine was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

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This restaurant was started in 1947 by my father and his brother and sister. They were from Louisiana, and they were used to Southern cooking like fried chicken, hog maws, pig tails, corn bread and things that poor people eat there.

They opened Jacobs' Cafe on the corner of 22nd Street and Griffith Avenue, in a neighborhood kind of place. There was a church on the corner and a streetcar used to run by. I was 8 years old when they opened. I used to help my father with breakfast before I went to school, and in the evenings I'd come back to wash dishes and burn trash.

After the first year, it was just my parents running the place. Over time, my father passed away and my mother got sick, so I quit my job with the county to take over the cafe in 1990.

One of the first things I did was move the restaurant to a bigger place about 25 blocks away. We went from having only 20 seats to being able to accommodate 50 to 60 people. The kitchen was bigger too.

Everything has changed in the neighborhood since the restaurant opened. When I was growing up, the neighborhood was roughly 75% black and 25% Latino. My sisters and I were raised with Latinos, and we went to junior high and high school together. But over time, the people who lived here got better jobs and moved away while new people came in. Now it's roughly 25% African American and 75% Latino.

Even though most of the neighborhood is Latino, the restaurant is still really busy. They love this food. They eat pigs' feet and hog maws too, but they traditionally prepare it in a different way, like in menudo. Most of the staff here is Latino. It's not anything we did on purpose--it just happened that way. But it hasn't hurt our business. When other Latinos walk past the window and they see that their kind is here, that makes the place feel more inviting for them.

When we moved to our new location, we advertised in the Catholic newsletter and in a real popular Spanish magazine. That definitely helped us attract people from the neighborhood. Plus everyone here is friendly. We're all like family.

For a long time we used to be open Mondays through Fridays. Now we're closed Fridays and Saturdays but are open on Sundays so we can accommodate big groups who come here after church.

The people who eat in here are from all walks of life. The majority of our customers are people who work in the Civic Center, but we get people from as far as Pomona and Long Beach. The people who grew up with the restaurant and moved away come back for the food. A lot of things have changed, but we're still the same.

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On changing demographics . . .

"When I was growing up, the neighborhood was roughly 75% black and 25% Latino. . . . Now it's roughly 25% African American and 75% Latino."

On reaching out to the changing neighborhood. . .

"We advertised in the Catholic newsletter and in a real popular Spanish magazine. That definitely helped us attract people from the neighborhood."

On how the restaurant is attractive to Latinos . . .

"When other Latinos walk past the window and they see that their kind is here, that makes the place feel more inviting for them."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

AT A GLANCE

Company name: Jacobs' Cafe

Owner: Carolyn Jacobs-Celestine

Nature of business: Soul food restaurant and catering

Location: South-Central Los Angeles

Year founded: 1947

Owner since: 1990

Number of employees: 6

Annual sales: Expecting $200,000

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