By Darlene Donloe
LEIMERT PARK — When COVID-19 unraveled Los Angeles in March, forcing a “Safer at Home” edict from the mayor’s office, instead of closing, Anthony “Tony” Jolly, the owner of Hot and Cool Café, decided to participate in Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s emergency program to provide free, healthy meals to homebound seniors.
“We kept the doors open so the community could have a taste of normalcy,” Jolly said. “I also felt it was important to do our part to feed the people in our community. The number of people in need grew quickly. When the program officially ended, we decided to continue. There was still a need.”
Although Harris-Dawson’s official hot meal program has ended, Jolly, 46, said his shop has continued to provide meals through a modified hot meal giveaway every Wednesday.
“We usually deliver about 300 meals on Wednesdays,” he said.
In the first six months of the pandemic, Hot and Cool Café’ donated 5,000 meals from the heart of Leimert Park.
Jolly said the program will continue “as long we can.” The café is accepting donations through its website and also on GoFundMe.
At no time during the pandemic has Hot and Cool Café had to shut its doors. Jolly said the business has not suffered financially.
“That didn’t happen to us,” he said. “Not for me. I saw good come out of it because we fed seniors in the community. I have big faith in God. I always find gratitude somewhere, somehow. Humanity showed its best faith. I stay grateful.”
When it opened in April 2018, Jolly said the intention of the Hot and Cool Café was to “serve every coffee, every cup, with love.”
“There is a difference in the taste when you care about what you do,” said Jolly, who moved from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles three years ago. “You’re going to get great coffee when you come here because we source it directly. We roast it on the premises and we care.”
Although it started off as a coffee bar, within two years Hot and Cool Café, located on Degnan Boulevard, has grown into a neighborhood staple that serves vegan food and hosts local jazz musicians.
“When I first got to the area, I asked around about local jazz musicians,” Jolly said. “I knew I wanted music to be part of the café. There is a lot of talent out there.”
Jolly said the criteria for playing at the café is, “You just gotta be good.”
Hot and Cool Café has the slogan, “If it ain’t hot, if it ain’t cool, it ain’t here,” above the coffee bar. It is described as a place that provides a community hub and creative space in Leimert Park Village to view art, listen to live music, enjoy healthy food, and, of course, drink coffee.
Jolly said the goal of his business is to provide crop-to-cup coffee experiences to coffee lovers and novices alike, within a creative space that feels like a home away from home.
On Dec. 8, Jolly had a “soft opening” for a second Hot and Cool Café in Woodland Hills that will serve the same food and also will feature jazz music.
Both cafés serve fresh, exotic ground coffee, Cafe Lattes, Cappuccinos, hot and cold teas, pastries and ice cream, hot soups, sandwiches, bowls, and vegan offerings.
In response to the COVID-19 and safer-at-home orders, the café is offering a modified menu with delivery by Grubhub or DoorDash, according to Jolly.
Jolly, who at one time worked at Starbucks, where his passion for coffee began, has been in the coffee business since the mid-1990s.
When he first got into the specialty coffee game, Jolly, who said, “it’s more than just a drink, it brings people together,” said he didn’t see a lot of people of color.
“I remember being in Seattle for a coffee conference and the rental car attendant asking me why I was there,” Jolly said. “I said, ‘I’m in coffee.’ He said, ‘There are no Black people in coffee.’ I said, ‘I am.’”
Jolly’s specialty coffee journey has taken him from Washington, D.C. to Colorado, Ethiopia, Los Angeles, San Jose, and back to Los Angeles.
While in Colorado where his wife was attending law school, Jolly began working for a company that did business with coffee farmers in Ethiopia. After living in Ethiopia for a year and learning the politics of coffee roasting, he taught himself how to roast. Jolly soon became known as a “coffee hunter.”
When he moved back to the states, it wasn’t long before he began roasting his own coffee in his backyard in Colorado and then his garage in San Jose.
At that same Seattle conference, Jolly said he met someone who was interested in partnering with him in the coffee business. That friend is the one who pointed him in the direction of Leimert Park as a possible place to build his coffee empire.
“When we were looking for locations, he took me to Leimert Park,” Jolly said. “I said, ‘No, thank you.’ I knew nothing about the area at the time. But when we got there, there was a meth (methamphetamine) camp in the back. It was desolate. I mean it was empty. I saw that the Metro was being built. At the time, I didn’t own a car. I also saw gentrification happening.”
Although he “wasn’t feeling” the Afro-centric arts community when he first visited the area, Jolly said he eventually saw the potential in Leimert Park.
“When I first looked around the area, I said, ‘no way,’” Jolly said. “It turns out this is where we were supposed to be. It was divine that we started here.”
Today Jolly, who launched his roasting company under the name Crenshaw Coffee Company, buys his coffee from a female-owned farm in Ethiopia. It reportedly grows from 100-year-old trees. Jolly imported between 20-30,000 pounds of the coffee. He began his coffee business by selling unroasted, then roasted, and then expanded to retail.
To Jolly, the name of the café is appropriate.
“What makes it hot and cool is that it’s a community space,” said Jolly, a married father of three. “It’s a safe space for us, that’s what’s cool. By opening in Leimert Park it allowed African Americans to try something new and not be intimidated or judged. We can let our hair down and grow. It’s hot because of who we are and because we have a great vegan menu that has really caught on. Customers ask for vegan all the time.”
Jolly’s mother, brother, and sometimes his wife work at the café — making it a “family business.”
“We don’t judge here,” he said. “I wanted a community feel. This is home. It’s a place for all. It’s powered by Black love, ingenuity, innovation, culinary, food, and coffee. We want the best of our culture to shine. We want to be the light of Leimert Park.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.