Dallas—Every morning in Dallas’ Lower Greenville you’ll find a fine coffee shop looking to make your day a little brighter.
“We genuinely want to make you happy,” said barista, Clio Rizo.
Housed in this 100-year-old house is the La La Land Kind Café, a bistro that goes above and beyond with all organic offerings and toast with tons of toppings, including avocado of course.
“It would definitely start your day off way better,” added barista, Kadee Randle.
A jolt of java really does the start the day of right, but it’s the friendly faces that make the biggest difference.
“When you walk in here, our main goal is to have you walk out a lot happier than you were when you walked in… If we can make you smile, and you leave here more positive, that’s a big win for us,” said Francois.
Francois Reihani is the young entrepreneur behind this bold concept in coffee.
“We love getting into the creative stuff… making things reminiscent of your childhood. Whether it’s French toast or s’mores, it all ties back into this brand of La La Land becoming a place where you feel a sense of happiness,” he said.
But that sense of happiness he helps create isn’t just for the customers.
“Coming into this, and being able to come into work, and knowing that I’m making a difference every day that I wake up, I think that’s what life is about,” said Francois.
Now it’s not the hot coffee or extreme expressos that are making the difference, it’s the people that work here, because a few of them are fresh out of the foster system.
“How this business even came about was, first, what do we open where we can hire foster youth? It wasn’t, ‘Let’s open a coffee shop and hire foster youth.’ It was, ‘What do we think would be the best environment for them to grow in?’ Coffee is very happy. It’s a fun job. Even if they don’t stay with us here forever, they can go to a lot of different places and make a real income. So, that was big for us,” he explained.
Clio Rizo and Kadee Randle are just two of those former foster kids who have loved working at La La Land.
“Francois has become like my big brother, honestly,” said Clio.
Her long journey to La La Land started a long time ago and she’s lived in a lot of places.
“I’ve moved 47 times. I turned 19 in July, so 47 times in 19 years, quite a lot. So, I don’t really have a place that I call home,” she explained.
From the ages of three to 18, Clio was never able to find a forever home and when she aged out of the system she walked all the way from Tyler to Dallas. With nowhere to turn and no one to lean on, she became homeless.
“I found the strength to keep going, and it was really hard for me daily. I was homeless for about three and a half months,” she said.
She finally found help at the Transition Resource Action Center in Dallas, a program that helps foster kids make the transition to independent living. That is where she kept hearing about a place called La La Land.
“I was at a transitional living program, and they were like, ‘Hey, La La land reached out to us. They want to work with some of us,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, if three different people are telling me about this place, clearly, there’s something great about it. Clearly, I have to go,'” said Cleo.
Her first interview was nerve wracking but Francois made her feel at ease.
“When I first met him, I was very anxious because it was five people interviewing me, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is… I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to be okay,’ but he reassured me that everything was okay, that, ‘Just take deep breath. You’ve got this.'”
“We don’t want to just throw them in and say, ‘Hey, good luck.’ There’s a big mentorship part. We show them, to train them… as time goes on, maybe that youth becomes a lot more comfortable and more stable, and once they know that they can do this on their own, no matter what, then we can bring more in,” Francois explained.
“He always tells me, ‘You’re number one, Cleo. You’ve got this. You’re the best,’ and he’s always so very uplifting and positive. Even when I’m having one of my moments of, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t feel like I’m enough right now,’ Fran’s always right there like, ‘Hey, you’ve got this. Give me a hug. Give me a high five. Get back out there. You’re doing great,'” said Cleo.
That sort of support, that person to lean on, was something new to Clio.
“The last thing we ever want to do is bring a youth in and have them go through another failure in their life. I mean, that would be a complete failure to us,” said Francois.
“I was told for a very long time I’d never be anything. I’d never graduate. I’d never make it to 18. So, I use all the ‘you will nevers’ to drive me farther, to make me want more from life. I’m doing everything I do to defy the odds because I don’t want to be another statistic. Even though, technically, I can never … I’ll always be a statistic,” said Cleo.
“When they’re signing up, when you’re hiring them… you give them their emergency contact form, and they’re sitting there and they call you and they say, ‘I don’t know what to put.’ Here’s a 18, 19 year old kid that has no idea, not even one person to put as their emergency contact,” said Francios.
No matter how much coffee can perk you up, when you hear sobering stories about the situation former foster kids like Clio have to deal with, it completely breaks your heart.
“It’s kind of really hard, emotionally, to think, ‘Wow, either my parents didn’t want me, or the state thought they weren’t good enough to want me, and now nobody wants me,'” expressed Clio.
“These are kids that go through their entire life alone, and we’re all just sitting here, going about our day, saying, ‘Good luck.’ So, who is going to care? That’s the question,” said Francois.
“The holidays are really hard because I see everyone with their families, and then there’s me by myself. Never really getting to enjoy the little things in life is what makes me want more, makes me push harder, and work harder, and have a better work ethic, and just makes me want to be a better person because I know that, eventually, I will get to that point where I can enjoy the little things. Maybe if I have a family of my own, I can make sure that my family has what I didn’t have as a kid,” said Clio.
“The only people that are saying that they’re taking care of them is our government, and that’s the worst kind of care you’ll ever see in your entire life, right? It’s a slide by. Nothing’s fixing anything. So, if we don’t step up as their brothers and sisters… then what’s going to happen to them?” said Francois.
So he fights on. Finding foster youth to fill his fancy coffee shop while bringing hope and happiness to those who dearly need it.
“Keep pushing. It’s really hard, the things that we go through as a foster youth. That’s not just with staff, but emotionally and mentally, but I can say keep pushing. It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to want to give up, but if you keep pushing, then more doors will open, and you’ll have better opportunities. You just have to find it,” said Kadee.
“If I were to say anything to any foster youth out there watching this… it’s to keep fighting, because it does get better. I know that’s such a cliche thing to say. I was like, ‘It never gets better. It never gets better,’ but if you have the right mindset and the right attitude, if you think it’s going to get better, it will get better because you have that extra determination, that extra drive,” said Clio.
“There’s so many different ways to help. There’s so many different avenues that we should all be putting a little part in, and if people really did realize that, our whole world would be completely different,” said Francois.
So wake up and smell the coffee because there’s more ways than one to brighten your day.
“We want you to feel that sense of euphoria, that high on life from coming in here,” said Clio.
“I love waking up, coming to La La Land, talking to people, making them smile,” said Kadee.
“Most people will tell you that when you’re helping someone, you feel your best,” remarked Francois.
“We are more than just a coffee shop. It’s awesome. I love it here,” said Clio.