A Houston coffee shop is making it a mission to help teens who age out of the foster care system.
When you walk into La La Land Kind Café, you’re greeted by the color of happiness, yellow, and some of the kindest staff you’ll likely meet.
“And when you leave, we literally tell them we love them,” said General Manager of the Heights location, Pearl Del Angel.
Founder Francois Reihani said kindness is part of the recipe for success.
La La Land Kind Café is the newest business to open at MKT Market in the Heights, but it’s his sixth café and third city. The company has four locations in Dallas and one in California.
Before the coffee, flavored matcha lattes and trendy café, Reihani said his primary focus has been to help teens aging out of the foster care system transition into adulthood. The 26-year-old said he was inspired after learning first-hand from foster youth several years ago about the challenges some of them faced.
“The first one went up and [we] heard her story, and she was talking about living in six different homes and abuse in the home and what happened at 18 when they gave her a trash bag to move out of the house,” Reihani said. “Imagine being 18 alone on the street.”
Roughly 20,000 youth leave the foster care system annually and are forced to fend for themselves, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation also states youth who age out are more likely to experience homelessness, joblessness, substance use, and early parenthood.
“And so, the more I researched it, it became a deep dark hole and I became very passionate about finding a solution. And we started our non-profit, which helps them find therapy, jobs, that kind of stuff,” the CEO said. “Once we did that, we hit a barrier because we couldn’t get them many jobs. You can’t become an adult if you can’t have a career.”
So, Reihani dreamt up La La Land.
“The name ‘La La Land’ was created to kind of create this heavenly state,” he said.
Reihani said the café is a positive place foster youth aging out of the system can find refuge with an eight-week paid internship.
“They learn everything they need to,” he said. “After that, they sometimes stay with us as actual employees, and then some want to go work with dogs, so our youth director will help them find whatever they’re passionate in.”
Del Angel said they have an intern that just started this week.
“We make them better people. We teach them responsibility. We teach them commitment and we give them a safe space to grow because we understand the foster youth,” the general manager said. “We understand that they’ve had a hard life, and they might not understand everything.”
Del Angel is a 19-year-old general manager. She said La La took a shot on her too for a managerial position with little experience.
“We just generally want to hire great people,” Reihani said. “That’s what it’s about. We don’t look at your age, where you come from or what your experience is. We want to learn about what you want to do for the world.”