The stretch of tire shops and furniture warehouses in El Sereno is an unlikely spot for an independent coffee shop offering free books, yoga and papier-mâché classes. But Holy Grounds Coffee & Tea has developed a growing reputation with diverse residents from Alhambra to Boyle Heights to Highland Park. On any given day, construction workers, musicians from nearby artists' colonies, and police officers can be seen sharing the same space and sipping on cafe de olla.
This welcoming atmosphere is just the sort of environment that owner Steve Boland strives to foster. "It's been really exciting getting to meet the different people of this area," he said. "Even in these last two months, we've received so much support from this community, and I feel like we're doing a really good thing here."
Boland, who is originally from Connecticut, lives right above Holy Grounds and is the driving force behind the café's committment to social change. He and many of his employees have struggled to maintain social sector jobs with the economic downturn — a few, including Boland, are former social workers who were laid off; another is a graduate student pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Cal State Long Beach. One of Boland's rules of the café is that social workers and cops get free coffee. "They're very hard working people, and we just want to show our support," he said.
Employees maintain that everyone involved at Holy Grounds aspires in some way to stay active within their communities. "Steve's got a really eclectic group of people here, and he gives us all a chance to do something," said Tony Rodriguez, who also plays saxophone in a local band called Mexico68. He has a series of photographs taken during his travels through Bogotá, Colombia, which are printed on postcards displayed for sale near the front counter.
Not just the customers are eclecitc. Boland's collection of furniture and decor are a hodgepodge of items salvaged or gathered from donations and his own expeditions, including walks down the neighboring train tracks where he discovered discarded tiles. The outdoor garden is filled with plants and mismatched patio sets, centered around a mosaic fountain. On a recent Saturday morning, the café hosted a papier-mâché class and a yoga class. On Wednesday nights, there is "Candelini" yoga — Holy Grounds' candlelit version of Kundalini yoga. There's also a huge selection of books kept right out front as part of the café's free book exchange program, which they hope will promote literacy throughout the community.
Boland takes pride in the local interactions: “People from the neighborhood come in here all the time, and they'll hear someone say, ‘I live on Dorchester’ and then they'll go, ‘Oh, I live on Dorchester too!’ So many of my neighbors have gotten to meet each other that way, and it’s a great thing when that occurs. That’s when the space really works.”
Holy Grounds Coffee & Tea is located at 5371 Alhambra Ave., Los Angeles, CA. It is open Monday – Friday, 6am – 9pm, Saturday 8am – 6pm, and Sunday, 8am – 3pm.
*Corrected: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the band Mexico68. We regret the error.