Homegirl Cafe, Los Angeles

Yuyu's Sandwich at Homegirl Cafe

On the one hand, it’s a sandwich. On the other hand, consider how it got here.

Homegirl Cafe is an offshoot of Homeboy Industries, founded by Catholic priest Father Greg Boyle in East Los Angeles, to keep kids away from gangs and drugs, and to bring gangbangers out of that life. Its motto: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

Homeboy Industries provides education and training (cooking and baking to poetry and solar panel installation), even tattoo removal, all free of charge. Trainees can then work in one of Homeboy’s businesses, including a bakery, silkscreen shop and here at the Homegirl Cafe, in a new building on the edge of LA’s Chinatown. Homegirl even has an organic garden for some of its produce.

It’s open for breakfast and lunch. At lunch time, they serve Mexican and American-inflected starters and salads, plus nine (count ’em!) varieties of tacos from pork carnitas to green chicken mole and a vegan taco of hibiscus flowers, caramelized onions, avocado, cucumber, serrano chiles and cilantro.

I chose comfort food, Yuyu’s sandwich: turkey, mango and chipotle salsa, lettuce, tomato and onions on a baguette from Homeboy Bakery. I wouldn’t have noticed, much less minded, if the sandwich had been served just as described, but my takeout version was tied in a paper wrapper and a bow of twine before being wrapped in biodegradable plastic.

It’s a great emblem for what they’re trying to do here. Not just make the sandwich, but make it better. Not just take kids out of harm’s way, but show them a new way.