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Roy takes a head-on look at efforts to heal the social and economic wounds of Watts, acknowledging one of the oldest communities in Los Angeles as a mirror into ourselves and our future. Led by activist Aqeela Sherrills, Roy visits with Sherrills' mother as she prepares free food for the community, digs into the soul of what makes Watts Coffee House a cornerstone in the neighborhood and examines the missed opportunities of the Jordan Downs Housing Project redevelopment. Sharing the "real" story of his own restaurant Locol and where it stands within the community of Watts, Roy reflects as he connects with the very people navigating the most pressing issues facing our food systems.

Daily food & travel inspiration in your inbox

Daily food & travel inspiration in your inbox

Transcript

- [Old Voiceover] Somewhere around the year 2020, the city of Los Angeles will have to provide for five million people. The surrounding basin will contain over 10 million. Where will they live? Will they have enough schools? Enough jobs? Enough clean water to drink? How will they live in this huge and personal city? And who cares about all that anyway? - I just wanna show you where we are. We're on 103rd in Grape Street right there. When you say Grape Street, there's nothing more I need to explain. This is Watts. This area is the epicenter. There were businesses all along this street, barber shops, shoe shops, clothing shops, everything then the uprise in 65, this is where everything burned down. And then now it's also LocoL so it's like almost spiritual that LocoL is here as well. I'm a street cook, even before I was a street cook I was a street person. I'm out there doing things whether it's approved or not. My whole existence in this world is to nourish and feed people. I want this show to be about the power of us as humans to come together again. Let's not make assumptions, let's not make stereotypes and from there we can start to talk about these things and maybe understand each other. Whether you believe different from mine, we're breaking bread. Watts is the home of prophets and poets. Wanda Coleman, Barry White, Charles Mingus and Etta James were all raised in Watts. It's a place steeped in history but also decades of disinvestment. Watts is a small corner of south L.A. where African Americans migrated from the south. It's a place where they built homes, a sound, a culture and a community that beat all the odds and when it was time to demand change, they did and all hell broke loose. Watts is also the place where we chose to open LocoL, a restaurant that looks beyond food to provide healthy options and jobs in a new narrative of possibilities and hope, in a neighborhood that has been denied them for years. Feeding and nourishing people is what we wanted to do at LocoL but sometimes having a mission and running a business are two very different things. - I just come out of prison, so for them just giving me the opportunity to come in and work was just a blessing. When they call me they were like are you still interested in working for us I said yes and then the hardest part I said yes, I hanged up and then I was in a halfway house. I was like oh my god, I gotta get this job so then I called back I say you know what, I'm interested in working, I just have a little problem. I just got out of prison, I'm in a home, she said no problem, don't worry about it, give my number they could verify with me I said yes lord and that helped me get out the halfway house six months earlier. Now I got my own place and I've been cool. My team is here, here comes Rob. - Yes Ma'am. We finna open up a restaurant, would you like to work? And I was like yeah man why not. I always wanted to cook. By growing up down the street watching my great grandmamma, my grandmamma, my mumma, my aunties cook, it brung happiness to everybody. I had seen Roy on a few TV shows, it was one of those experiences that you never thought you'd have. - The existence of LocoL itself relies on our relationship with a person like this right here. You already holding down the block, right. It was almost like I didn't know if I would be disrespecting you if like I was gonna ask you like could you work here at LocoL and I remember that day you came out to me like I'm right here. - Aint going nowhere. - Aint going nowhere, I'm right here, you got anything I was like, that's the day like things open up for me I was like yeah for sure. - I said I'll start from the bottom and show you what I can do, I can move from the bottom to the top real quick and so you had to give that respect to him because he didn't have to come down here and he didn't have to come down here with respect 'cause he coulda just did it on his own anyway, he didn't need us. - This location is known for a lot of violent activities, a lot of violent activities so I know that was one of the questions that Roy and his crew was asking each other. Is this the right place to open up LocoL? So why not, like Roy said, why not? Everybody's not bad around here. This was a dream for them to open this up. You don't give up on a dream. - Our soul is fast food. Short order grill sizzling. The idea of LocoL was to look at fast food itself and not shy away from it. Why do people love it, I love it, different moments, different ways and you gotta get that same feeling but then take that same architecture but fill it with all natural products. This are the holdies, I mean look how delicious they look. All natural raised beef, grains, natural cheese from California so it's things like that but then when you look at it it's all messy and like it looks greasy but it's not greasy it just has that soul of fast food. Same with the burger too, greasy little burger but it's not, right because 30% is made out of grains, tofu, seaweed, it's not just lip service, this is the pantry of LocoL. Red beans, quinoa, lentils, conboo, shiitake, black beans, feral, brown rice and wholewheat, self explanatory. Miss Patricia right here, she's making our buns. All the buns are made in house so fermented dough. It looks the part and it tastes the part but behind the curtain it has a whole other philosophy. After you eat it you walk around like I feel good, that's really what it's about. The social consciousness of restaurants is a part of the recipe now. - Everybody's tryna do their part, we got the EBT machine now so now it's really showing that it is really for disadvantage people 'cause there's no income. People use they food stamps to go grocery shopping and whatever they have left over they come in to LocoL's. We just had a mothers event because they hadn't been able to get out to get here and so when they finally got here and see what we had, hey send your grandkids up here to get it for you or call me, I'll walk right around the corner to you. All revenues is good because we tryna be here for 20, 30, 40, 50 years like McDonalds. You know they say restaurants close within the first year, we been here almost three years. This saved my life, I got to see my son graduate because I was working, I got to see my daughter graduate 'cause I was working. If I wasn't working, who knows, might not of been here. It's helping the neighborhood, people that didn't have jobs had a job now, got experience, can go get a job because they had experience now. A lot of things that this restaurant did for people that people from the outside can't see but from the inside we know. - [Roy] It's really important to understand the whole ecosystem in which LocoL exists, that is the community of Watts. LocoL is only one piece of a larger story. - [Roy Voiceover] Forget what you've heard or what you've read, Watts is a place plagued by misconceptions. If you really wanna understand this neighborhood and community you have to get to know the people. Aqeela Sherrills was my gateway to Watts and he was instrumental in making LocoL happen. He has dedicated his life to peace and reconciliation. - There's a certain hospitality and family network to Watts as a person first handedly have received that and I can tell you for a fact it's like nothing I've ever felt in my life. - Yeah man. Well it is a transient city. People are moving all the time and stuff and everything and Watts, because of the housing projects, you have generations of people who live in the same place. It creates a whole nother dynamic. European culture are very sterile, man people be living next door to folks for 15 years and it's like and people don't even talk. - Yeah. - [Aqeela] You know, but here. - [Roy] You're sleeping on each others couches. - Exactly. You borrow like everything, you don't have a lot so people are forced to do a lot of exchange. - It's a village. - On me. - So Watts you know is an acronym. WATTS stands for we are taught to survive. You gotta learn how to survive growing up in this neighborhood, people done died and been shot in these communities and bled out on these streets but also people have been born on these floors in some of these places and so this place it carries a lot of history. - Can you guys explain about what's going on here? - So Jordan Downs is being torn down. This is the first redevelopment since 1947 in the Watts community. - [Roy] Can we walk there real quick? - Yeah, yeah let's walk there. Jordan Downs is 700 hundred units so they're actually going to replace the 700 one to one but they're also gonna build another 700 mix rate and then they're gonna build another two to three hundred market rate. - So this is gonna be the new Jordan Downs? So they went for like an Irvine stucko look huh? I don't know how I feel about it, I'm confused. Like I appreciate development, you need new but. - It looks terrible man honestly. - We say cookie cutter. - That's cookie cutter. This is was a chance to do the mosaic, historic. - Right, right. - Culture filled pride generating redevelopment. I'm a little heart broken, it's kinda weird. A bet a lot of people may not understand how we're feeling. - Yeah. - 'Cause they're seeing 70 year old projects. - Right. - With bars on 'em and looking at us complaining about something new but you gotta be here to understand the foundation and the emotional impact man it is. - [Aqeela] Yeah man. - Wow. - We don't own none of this. Like people who have had generations of families who have been raised and died and lived in these developments, they should've figured out a formula. Not just to get a unit to come back you know what I'm saying with a voucher. What about transitioning people from renters to owners so that folks own some of this place because then there's a different of experience and feel when you own something. - The bottom line is we walk through there, nobody is happy, this was an opportunity where we could've shown an example of how you can start the process of healing. It was still those in power deciding what needs to be done for that community. - [Roy Voiceover] Outside of the projects, there aren't many places for the residents of Watts to gather let alone eat. In fact, there's only one sit down non fast food restaurant in the neighborhood, it's called the Watts Coffee House and is essential to the story of the area. Built from the literal ashes of the 65 uprising, the Watts Happening Coffee House became a cultural epicenter for local artists, musicians, writers and activists dedicated to rebuilding their community and pursuing social change. Desiree Edwards brought the coffee house back to life after it had been closed for three decades. - [Roy] Thanks for having me here. - [Desiree] Glad to have you. - [Roy] So what's the history of the Watts Coffee House? - How the Watts Coffee House got it started was actually across the street before the 65 uprising, that's it right there as the Watts Happening Coffee House so I didn't create it, I just brought back a neighborhood institution that was a draw for the community. It's a place of love and peace and unity with a lot of good food to warm that soul. Being here in Watts now for three years. - Right. - You have like a loyal following. And did that start from the beginning, was it your wings that got people, was it the red velvet waffles. - Nah Roy, it's the being here. I'm just so enthralled by just being here and the people that I've met, you know people that live here when they have someone visiting, they're proud to bring 'em in here. You cannot survive without your customers so you know you become to know 'em. We've watched kids over here grow up. - What's crazy is you came in at a time where you were the only kind of sit down restaurant. - [Desiree] Right. - [Roy] And then now you're still the only sit down restaurant. - [Desiree] Right. - How do we get to a place where there's not just only one restaurant for 100,000 people and then a few fast food spots and liquor stores sprinkled in between. - You know that's another thing, we only have one grocery store open. - [Roy] Yeah, yeah. - In the middle of Los Angeles, it's a prominent community, freeway close so how can you not be proactive about having all that accessibility here in this area that can thrive. It needs more. - [Roy] Not only more business but it needs more for the community. - [Desiree] More jobs. - [Roy] More jobs yeah. - [Desiree] That's the end line goal. - And everyone that works here, you try to hire from the community. - Yes. No work is fair as western weather 'cause we can train, we can train, that's my duty I feel of being here is that I feel accomplished for the amount of kids that've come through here can gone on and graduated. You wanna be a place where you can employ the young and then you motivate 'em to go about their life and be a productive citizen in addition to the fact they're learning a trade so they go away to school, they can say I've been working. - Yep. - See the worst thing is to go school, graduate from college and you have no work experience. - Yeah, we just need opportunities. - Right. - 'Cause it aint a lack of talent or intelligence or ability. - You're 100% correct. - [Roy Voiceover] Desiree created a space for locals to sit down to a home cooked meal in a setting that celebrates the history of the community. It's a rare space of inclusion and opportunity where friends can gather and break bread. But it's not just the local businesses that are celebrating the history of the community. At Aqeela's house, his home town pride is literally written all over the walls. - This is crazy, oh the mural is beautiful. - Yeah. The buildings they spell Watts and then this was like the new beginning. - [Roy] Uh huh. - [Aqeela] Technology. - [Roy] Oh yeah. - [Aqeela] Planting new seeds and stuff and everything. - Your home is like Epcot center. - [Roy Voiceover] There's a whole lot more to Aqeela than meets the eye. In the early 90's he worked alongside activist and football legend Jim Brown to help broker the 1992 peace treaty between the Crips and the Bloods. - Does this live in a museum anywhere or? - No. - Just lives in your chest. - Lives in my chest. - [Roy] The multi peace treaty, April 29th 1994. It wasn't 92. - Well they signed it in 94 but the peace treaty happened in 92. - Okay. Crips and Bloods general armistice agreement signed in the imperial courts. It's written as a contract with the articles. - Yes. Like the first two years of the peace treaty meant gang homicides dropped 44% in the neighborhood. So then we learned real quick about the economics of law enforcement that they was actually invested in the palmital. So every time a shooting happens they roll out more cops and now there's overtime money and so there was this cop man Sunshine. When we were celebrating the peace treaty, Sunshine had drove up and we was like Sunshine, we was like the peace treaty oh man aint you happy. You aint gotta worry about no more. He was like man you talking about they'll be a cold day in hell before I ever support the peace treaty. He said I make 50,000 dollars a year as a base salary, he said I make another 60 in overtime. He said I'm putting my daughter through college on your ignorance. We were like what? I'm like we thought these folks would be excited about us. You know what I'm saying, I'm like man we just wanna stop killing up each other and have a safe neighborhood and create opportunities for our kids to have better opportunities and stuff. But they didn't see it that way 'cause they was invested in the problem. - [Roy Voiceover] Every week, Aqeela and his mom, Mama Wajeha prepare home cooked meals for those in need, it's a community tradition dating back to the 60's where she and others began to heal the wounds of oppression through food. Her teachings have followed Aqeela from childhood and it formed what LocoL and the Watts Coffee House are all about. - [Mama Wajeha] I'm a second one up from slavery. - [Roy] Okay. - My mother was a slave. - Your mother was. - My daddy worked in the field. My mother worked in the house. We call the slave master, he gave them land. Then when the guy said they were free, my mother and my father still worked for him as share propers. - Okay. - And he gave them some little houses. There were Ku Klux Klan still at that time. - Yes. - And they ran us out of town. We was traveling from one house to other and the last house that I can remember they had bummed it. - You would've stayed in Louisiana if they didn't run you out of town? - Yes because we had houses, we had land. - Yeah and so is this a familiar story for a lot of the first wave of folks that came to Watts? - Mostly. - Mostly. - Imma let it get drained then imma rinse it with cold water. - Okay. - So it can stay green. - Oh. - Then imma put the bell peppers in. - They was a part of that first wave that came in in the early 40's. But you know in the 50's, that's when you had that huge migration. 400,000 black folks out of the south like basically escaped that place running for their life. - Wow that looks good! Did you already rinse it and stuff. - [Mama Wajeha] Oh sure. - Smells almost like Chinese food to be honest. Like it has that all that spice in there. - 'Bout 2014, 2015, the homeless population had rose. There's was no food around or nothing so I had to cook. - [Roy] You just gave it away? - [Mama Wajeha] I gave it away. - And that comes out of your own pocket book and you're paying for everything? - Yeah mostly. - [Roy] It's like cooking for your family 'cause the family is Watts. Wow! I just tasted the sweet potato. - [Aqeela] Yeah. - That's free? Oh my God! - [Roy Voiceover] Aqeela and Mama Wajeha have been an inspiration for me. Their selfless service to the community is at the core of who they are. They don't do it for fame or self gratification. They do it because it's the right thing to do. - [Aqeela] Free plates, free plates, free plates, free plates! On the third street, historical Watts default, get in line, first come, first served. - [Roy] There's this thing that if you're helping someone somehow you're losing. Someone else wins, somehow you lose. - What d'you want Kelly? You want salad? - The salad yeah. - [Roy] If somehow you give, they're taking. - [Aqeela] That's good D. - So it's these very polar binary thought patterns that we have in this country of if I give you a little bit that means somehow you're taking advantage of me and that's not the case. - Just follow me, I'll get you everything okay. - Thank you. - [Aqeela] You're welcome. - [Roy] When someone asks you for help. Make sure you grab your fork and your knife. It doesn't mean that they're less of a human than you. - Thank you, god bless. - We're in a situation where we need to help each other as humans in this moment of beautiful life. - Thank you. - You just feed people. Maybe it doesn't solve everything but it definitely solves something. Everyone understands the struggles of life, LocoL is a part of that too. Sure we want this to be a thriving success out the gates but sometimes life doesn't work that way. At the time we were doing our pre production, we had announced that LocoL was going to take a hiatus for retail sales and move into catering. We are not closing, we're gonna take a step back and see how we can keep this thing thriving for the marathon. Everyone took those words and made a conclusion on their own that we failed, closed and see I told you so. Everyone wants it either to be a success or a failure. LocoL is either going to change the world, have a million stores and completely figure out the puzzle of poverty and access or it's a failure. No one wants to highlight all of the little things that happened in between. You wanna take us down individually, go ahead but don't take the community down with us. We as a human race have decided that this one piece of paper is our capital. Shouldn't it be one thing within a recipe of other things. This is a currency, it's the currency of human life. LocoL is a restaurant built for and by the community of Watts. Through thick and thin we're here to feed, celebrate and help heal the wounds of the community. Yeah man, it's gonna be a good day, you can already feel it, right, you can already feel it. And on the corner of 103rd and Grape Street, there is no bigger celebration than hood day. - Right now, today is October 3rd, October 3rd is the tenth month, third day, 10 three, 103, you get it. - We doing it up today, you feel me, it's all love today. We just representing 103. - Today's hood day, the community was gracious enough to move their festivities over to our parking lot here. This is a celebration of their lives, of this neighborhood, of everything that Watts stands for. It's a celebration of family, it's a celebration of life, you know what I mean. - And we do this just like everybody else do, we get together and we break bread, we fellowship, that's what this is. It's a day that we say we gonna remember all our homies, a day that we aint gonna say we gonna have a great day, we gonna have a grape day, it's gonna be grape and lovely, that's what we having today. - Yes we is and it's gonna be a grape food once I eat it. - [Ready] Okay I see what you talking about. - Thank you Roy. - Happy hood day! Get your hood day accessories! - It's about 103rd, it's about Jordan Downs, it's about Grape, it's about opening back up and being a part of the neighborhood. This is for that chef's table . Shout out David Gell, what up, what up man. We got you out here. - Turkey turkey tacos, turkey tacos. - LocoL's man, that's how we get down, food always good here. - Hey, this is the man right here. - How you doing? - Watts life. - Watts life in the house. - You got the cars out? I just want you to see the beauty of LocoL, I want you to see the beauty of Watts. This is just a sliver of what LocoL is. - It's love with us, we gotta get opportunity to receive it. We can give it, chef been giving it, look at him. - It's a privilege, a privilege to be able to be here. - Don't put your hands on him, he aint out there on the sidewalk. You aint gotta fuck with him and put your hands on him though. He aint putting nothing in your face. - Look inside, no alcohol 'cause you don't have that permit. - Got it. - Okay, you gotta keep like an open business okay. - Yeah, we're open. - Okay but this is all your property, your gonna have to control that okay. Cars legally parked. - All right. - Get rid of all the beer, you gotta dispose of it. - We'll bring them in. - All right. - But let's do that, let's get your men off of them. - Inside and not like they can't hang on the street either. - All right, all right, so let's work both ways, we'll get your men off of them, we'll pull everyone in. - Hey man they doing what they always do, harassing, you feel me, they harassing, we chilling, having a good time, it's what they do. - You gonna check everybody coming out. Oh my god. - Paying attention to everything else. - Knock it off, go inside. - Y'all don't even respect a motherfucker as a motherfucking civilian, everybody just a gangsta huh. That's an illegal search. That's an illegal search. - Go live, go live, go live, illegal search and sieging. - How you want somebody to change when you treat them the same way all the fucking time? You want somebody to change but you gonna treat 'em the same way every time you see 'em. As a criminal and y'all know where we work at. If y'all was worried about something, y'all wouldn't even be right here, y'all be where y'all supposed to be instead of over here blaming us for shit every time we got something positive going on, y'all come through with the same stuff. - Just wasted all the taxpayers dollars just because it was a group of niggas right? - They having too much fun, they having too much fun, it's too peaceful, y'all wrong and they know they wrong. - They know this place is a safe haven, they know that. Everyone all the way up to the chief of police knows that. Doesn't mean they're the enemy but doesn't mean we're the enemy either and we need to break down the idea of who's the enemy. - [Mama Wajeha] That's right, that's the 10 trade day. - Aint nobody over here doing no respecting we just over here hanging. - They know what LocoL represents over the last three years and they still come up like this. This is not against the police department or against Grape Street or against LocoL or against Watts or against anyone. This is just trying to show the humanity in people. Maybe if the police could see the humanity in these young gentleman here versus just running up on them then maybe they could get a different reaction or a different explanation or maybe a bond can be created but if that relationship is always based on that how are you ever gonna progress? That's what LocoL's here for, sorry they had to do that to you. - They don't want us to have a good time. - That's what LocoL's here for. - Yeah that was crazy though. - They're still burdened with the mistakes of the past so they can never correct their future. A future that was never even promised to them to begin with. It's the truth of reparation in our country and admitting and being sensitive enough to say we were wrong, just for all of us to just say that we were wrong, that I'm sorry. That I see it. That I and I will do something about it.