Kelli Jackson is out to change the food choices in Hyde Park in South L.A., one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Jackson and her father, Hank, with help from the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, California Freshworks Fund and Sweetgreen restaurant, have taken the family’s rundown corner liquor store and transformed it into a market with healthy choices and fresh produce available to the community.
Located about a mile from the closest grocery store and across the street from a recycling center, Hank’s Mini Market has undergone a two-year remodel inside and out, punctuated with a mural by street artist Aiseborn celebrating Jackson’s mantra: “Stronger together.”
The store reopened on Saturday, April 7, with a celebration that included free food, including salads from Everytable and Jamaican patties from Baba’s Vegan Cafe, all a welcome sight to many of the neighborhood’s homeless who came to the event. Children expressed themselves at the art table while a DJ filled the street with music. Paper lanterns in Hanks’ signature orange draped the front doors and bounced in the breeze.
“I’m the second generation of Hank’s Mini Market — we’ve been here for 20 years,” the soft-spoken Jackson told L.A. Weekly. “My dad, Hank, started this business in 1997, and it was always his dream to have his own business. He lived in the area for over 40 years, so he was part of the community and the history here. Now it’s my opportunity to take it to the next level, in a creative and innovative way, more reflective of my background, which is combining food with art.”
Jackson, who has a master’s from USC in public art studies and also studied community development, became passionate about how art could help create a healthy oasis in Hyde Park. “Working with the L.A. Food Policy Council, I realized how art and food can uplift and inspire the community. Bringing those things together helps build a better community,” she said.
Sweetgreen, a healthy fast-casual restaurant chain based in Culver City, came in and helped make Hank’s a successful and sustainable business, Jackson said. The chain, which is dedicated to community outreach, helped with the reconstruction and provided the healthy items now stocked on the freshly painted shelves.
Jackson says she keeps the prices affordable to provide residents easy access to healthy food. “There are a lot of things this community is going through, and they need to know that eating healthier is going to make them feel better on a daily basis,” she said.
The neighborhood has its struggles. On Good Friday, the bludgeoned body of 78-year-old grandmother Freddie Brandon was found inside her ransacked apartment on West Boulevard. Police are still investigating the killing. On Sunday, April 8, her family held a vigil for Brandon, who had lived in the neighborhood as long as Hank’s has been in business; she was a fixture in the community.
The mini-market property owned by the Jackson family is just down the road from Inglewood Park Cemetery, one of the oldest in Los Angeles and the final resting place for a number of notable citizens, including Mayor Tom Bradley, Dock Ellis, Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald.
Jackson says she has faith in her neighborhood and the corner store. Hank’s still sells liquor and lottery tickets, but you have to get past the broccoli and bell peppers first.
“There were a lot of fast food stores and liquor stores, but no access to healthy food. It was a food desert,” she said. “So I started studying and taking interest in this community, and I realized I didn’t need to wait for somebody else to come in here and solve these problems. It was time for us to step up and make change within our store and push that out to the community.“
Hank’s Mini Market, 3301 W. Florence Ave., Hyde Park; (323) 751-1816.