Full City spotlight: This L.A. org helps thousands trade gang life for restaurant jobs

What if your Sunday brunch could contribute to the greater good?


In Los Angeles, when you choose to dine at the Homegirl Cafe, your meal will do more than cure your hangover. The breakfast and lunch spot serves up classic Latinx cuisine — and employs people who were once members of a gang, offering them a job-training program and a network of services.


Even better, the cafe is just one part of the program. It operates under a larger organization called Homeboy Industries, which has served hundreds of thousands of former gang members in its history.


We’re showcasing this example to inspire applications to the Full City Challenge, a collaboration between Billy Penn and the Economy League to jumpstart solutions to hunger by leveraging our region’s robust food economy.


Through Jan. 24 (that’s soon!), we’re accepting short proposals for initiatives, campaigns, social enterprises, technology platforms and other new collaborations that use food, culinary or agricultural-based solutions to address the underlying causes of hunger and poverty that affect too many residents.


If we like your idea, we’ll give you $5,000 to pilot it, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of strategic advice to help get a test off the ground.


There’s a lot of this kind of work already going on, both in Philly and around the country. So far we’ve highlighted the Seattle-based nonprofit FareStart, plus FoodMaven in Colorado and The Monkey & The Elephant in Philly’s Brewerytown neighborhood.


Up next: Homeboy Industries.



Homeboy Industries provides a variety of services for people who’ve been members of a gang, been to prison and/or experienced addiction. The culinary industry is its primary focus — the org trains employees to work at its network of nonprofit food service businesses.



Los Angeles, California



The first iteration of the Homeboy Industries was founded in 1992 by Jesuit priest Greg Boyle, who witnessed gang violence firsthand in his Los Angeles community and felt moved to do something about it. It was called the Homeboy Bakery, and it provided training for aspiring bakers who had been members of gangs.

The program started with a gift — Hollywood producer Ray Stark donated the money to start the first bakery — but it became so successful that, in 2001, Boyle was able to expand it into the parent organization it is today.



Homeboy Industries comprises:

Homegirl Cafe

Homegirl Catering

Homeboy Bakery

Homeboy Diner

Farmers Markets

An online food shop

A grocery store


In total, these shops provide full-time employment to more than 200 people. Throughout their employment, folks are participating in an 18-month job-training program, and they’re offered services like tattoo removal and classes on anger management and parenting.


Homeboy doesn’t just teach people how to serve food — it also offers educational services and a training program on solar panel installation.


The scale of this org is huge — in its 27-year history, Homeboy Industries has helped rehabilitate 120,000 former gang members.


“We focus on healing first, helping to break a population demoralized by stigma to be vulnerable and open to what can be,” Arlin Crane, Homeboy’s VP of social enterprises, told Upswell in August. “We want people at the community dinner who don’t know what being in a gang is like to experience someone’s journey, and to hear trainees’ stories about discovering that ‘gang life may have been a part of me, but it’s not going to define me.'”


How do they do it? Basically, Homeboy Industries works because it has a network of wealthy partners, including the Southern California Gas Company and the USC Medical Center.



To make this program work in Philly, we’d need:


- Funding partners


- A couple warehouses to open up full kitchens


- Patience — remember, this organization took 27 years to get where it is today

This article originally appeared on Billy Penn.