Above the row of espresso machines and the freshly crafted marble countertops, which, though unfinished, sparkled, hung an inflatable silver sign that read, “Happy Birthday.” François Reihani, the owner, and founder of La La Land Kind Café, had just celebrated his 28th birthday.
Reihani sat in his newest, yet-to-be-opened café location, with one leg folded over the other, surrounded by his executive staff who buzzed around him, assisting in planning, and designing the latest addition to the chain. Each café possessed a unique ambiance, and this new West Hollywood location, soon to be named “Café de la la,” drew inspiration from the charm of Paris.
Dressed in a light blue and white striped button-down shirt, Reihani effortlessly matched the aura of the Parisian café being built around him.
Entrepreneurship had been in Reihani’s blood from a young age, and his journey had begun much earlier than one might expect.
“I was eight years old, selling my aunt’s free real estate calendars door-to-door,” Reihani said, chuckling as he reminisced.
“Entrepreneurship was in me. After the calendars, I washed cars in the neighborhood, then sold candy and as I got older it just kept getting more serious.”
Although born in Los Angeles, Reihani’s family had moved to Rosarito, Mexico, when he was just two months old. It was in Rosarito that he first encountered homeless youth.
“When you grow up in Mexico and you’re only ten years old, seeing dozens of other ten-year-old’s living on the street, juggling balls or selling gum to survive, it sticks with you,” Reihani shared.
At the age of 12, he returned to Los Angeles to complete his secondary education. The transition from Mexican to American culture was a significant shock for Reihani.
“Mexican culture was so warm and friendly, everyone knows each other and cooks together, the community is together. Here, it’s the utter opposite,” he said.
Reihani missed the warmth and familial support he had experienced in Mexico. He knew that whatever he pursued in life, he wanted to embrace the same sense of support and warmth his family offered him and share it with others.
After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Reihani began his college journey at the University of Southern California. To his surprise, in his senior year, his parents decided to move to Dallas.
“From what I had heard, Dallas was a nice place with a similar culture to Mexico,” Reihani said. “My mom doesn’t understand how college credit works, I couldn’t just transfer all my credits. So, when I transferred to SMU I was considered a sophomore.”
While still attending classes at Southern Methodist University, Reihani opened his first restaurant, Pōk the Raw Bar, at the age of 20. He was one of the pioneers in introducing the poké cuisine to the city. Following this success, Reihani made the decision to drop out of school.
“I never needed a college degree; I would just be getting one to say I have one. I didn’t even see it as a risk, it was a no brainer,” Reihani said.
A self-described people person, Reihani’s natural hospitality abilities and passion for connecting with others served him well in running a restaurant.
However, Reihani said, “It felt like there was no meaning behind it. It wasn’t fulfilling, even though the restaurant was doing well.”
Reihani began searching for a passion that would provide him with a sense of purpose and motivation. He became involved with the Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children.
“I heard three foster youths tell their stories and seeing them bawl their eyes – anyone would feel moved to do something. These kids have done nothing wrong, got dealt the worst cards in history, were never given a first chance, and the government does nothing to take care of it,” Reihani explained.
Following this experience, Reihani decided to establish a nonprofit organization to support foster youth.
“To me, if you pick any group in America who deserves some help, one hundred percent, there’s no argument, it’s kids in foster care,” he said.
Reihani then created the “We Are One Project,” designed to connect foster youths with businesses willing to hire them.
“I thought by starting a nonprofit, it would solve my problem of feeling unfulfilled. But once it started running, and the kids couldn’t get or maintain jobs, I was thrown back into trying to find a solution and a way to help these kids.” Reihani said.
All Reihani’s efforts and endeavors eventually led him to his current project: La La Land Kind Café. La La Land promotes kindness and provides a space where dreams can come to fruition. He owns 11 cafés between Dallas and LA, and it quickly became an iconic spot in Los Angeles, gaining popularity on social media.
Like Reihani, the café was about much more than just turning a profit. It was a platform for Reihani to offer foster youth employment and mentorship, enabling them to create better lives for themselves. He created the La La program, an eight week program, in which the foster youths he hired can have weekly check in and goals which help prepare them for a world beyond the café.
“He lives and breathes his work,” Reihani’s Executive Assistant Caroline Beagles said. “He has such a fire under him that goes far beyond making money.”
Reihani acknowledged that knowing he could make a difference in the lives of others fueled his determination.
His new La La Land location is slated to open at the end of the month, continuing its mission to provide employment opportunities, promote kindness, and inspire visitors.
Reihani is filled with the kindness he advertises; he believes in the message of the café and lives authentically through it.
“When you do the right thing, magic happens” said Reihani, as he jumped up to make their newest drink, the “Café de La La.”