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Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County Announce Partnership with South LA Cafe Hospitality to Oversee Museum Restaurants and Catering

Trailblazing partnership will create hyperlocal food and beverage program at NHM, driven by the community’s cultural diversity and culinary traditions

Chef John Cleveland of Baldwin Hills’ Post & Beam will operate museum restaurant opening mid-March 2023 with a new casual dining concept

Celia and Joe Ward-Wallace in front of the Otis Booth Pavilion at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Celia and Joe Ward-Wallace.
Image: Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles, CA (January 24, 2023)— The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) announced today that its long-standing community partner, South LA Cafe, will join the Natural History Museum (NHM) in Exposition Park as its new food, beverage, and hospitality provider under the newly formed entity South LA Cafe (SLAC) Hospitality. The team behind the beloved local cafe, market, and community center known for social impact will manage, in partnership with established local operators, the Museum’s restaurant (set to open mid-March after refurbishment), the new cafe in NHM Commons (the Museum’s new wing slated to open in 2024), and exclusive in-house catering services at both NHM and La Brea Tar Pits. SLAC Hospitality will take over the Museum’s food service operations on February 1, 2023, and has an organizational commitment to subcontract with 90% minority and women-owned L.A.-based local companies. 

Cofounded by Los Angeles natives Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace, SLAC is a certified Minority Business Enterprise and women-led business ecosystem that includes South LA Cafe, South LA Market, South LA Cafe Community Foundation 501c3, and SLAC Hospitality. In 2020, South LA Cafe was named the #1 Emerging Business in the United States by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and has provided free and fresh food to over 150,000 local residents facing food insecurity through their weekly food distribution The South LA Grocery Giveaway. The Ward-Wallaces also lead the South LA Food Network, a collective of leading restaurateurs, caterers, and community organizations based in South LA that are SLAC Hospitality subcontractors. As part of the new food service agreement at NHM, SLAC Hospitality will partner with other renowned local culinary businesses to create and augment NHM’s new spectrum of food-related experiences.

“This bold, creative, and community-centered partnership with South LA Cafe Hospitality serves as an innovative new model for museums – providing food, beverage, and catering options for museum visitors and event partners that are hyperlocal, culturally informed, family-friendly and prioritize health and sustainability,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, NHMLAC President and Director. “Working with SLAC will help us achieve our vision for the Museum to serve as a dynamic community hub that engages all Angelenos with a focus on South L.A. while amplifying our mission to be a museum of, for and with L.A.”

SLAC Hospitality partners for NHM include Chef/Owner John Cleveland and Co-owner Roni Cleveland of Post & Beam, who will operate the Museum’s restaurant under a brand new casual concept, with name, menus and other details to be announced closer to opening. Located in South L.A.’s Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw District, Post & Beam is a family-owned, award-winning eatery and a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for Best Restaurant in 2022. The restaurant at NHM will feature family-friendly, sustainably-sourced offerings that reflect Post & Beam’s cuisine while meeting various dietary needs and choices. Additionally, SLAC Hospitality will bring on an aligned partner to operate an exclusive in-house catering program for NHM Events, which will launch mid-March.

“At SLAC we have a motto: 'everything we do is through partnership.' The collaboration with NHM is not only an embodiment of that, but also sets a new standard in the industry," said Joe Ward-Wallace. "The Museum has doubled down on its commitment to the community and local small businesses, and choosing to partner with us as a cornerstone of their guest experience and brand is a tremendous honor. This opportunity has provided our company with the rare chance to compete in this space and evolve our company. We are proud to be partners with a like-minded institution to help grow our business and mission.”

Through this collaboration, SLAC and NHMLAC will focus on shared goals for workforce development and supporting the local economy, with a priority on hiring food and beverage staff from the local community and sourcing materials from the L.A. area. The partnership will also prioritize community engagement and social impact. The South LA Community Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit affiliate of South LA Cafe, aims to create, build, and empower an equitable, healthy, and sustainable South Central community for all people by addressing education, economic empowerment, community building, cultural preservation, and social justice. By leveraging the Foundation’s partnerships and ongoing community engagement work, NHM will expand its offerings serving the local community.

“NHMLAC's transformational partnership with South LA Cafe Hospitality to provide food, beverage and catering services paves the way for more small, locally owned businesses of color to work with the County in serving our communities,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, Second District. “This partnership brings the expertise and unique flavor of South LA Cafe to residents and visitors from around the world and exemplifies the powerful impact that can be made when we collaborate with local entrepreneurs that are shaping the culture and future of Los Angeles.” 

SLAC Hospitality will begin renovating NHM’s current cafe space in early February, with the new restaurant set to launch mid-March. Food trucks and pop-up food stands from local restaurants will serve as an interim dining solution during the transition. 

About the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) include the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall. They operate under the collective vision to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. The museums hold one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—more than 35 million objects. Using these collections for groundbreaking scientific and historical research, the museums also incorporate them into on- and offsite nature and culture exploration in L.A. neighborhoods, and a slate of community science programs—creating indoor-outdoor visitor experiences that explore the past, present, and future. Visit NHMLAC.ORG for adventure, education, and entertainment opportunities.

About South LA Cafe Hospitality
SLAC Hospitality is the restaurant and hospitality management company led by CEO & Co-Founders Joe & Celia Ward-Wallace who bring over 30 years of experience in business development, community organizing, social enterprise, and restaurant, and hospitality industries. The mission of SLAC Hospitality is to disrupt the status quo of the corporate restaurant and hospitality contracting industry and create equal access and equity for local, minority, and women-owned businesses. SLAC Hospitality brings a network of culturally diverse and exceptionally talented food and beverage professionals together to create high-impact experiences and build a network of support. SLAC Hospitality has a specialization in community engagement through resonant branding, marketing, and social impact strategies and a deep commitment to hiring locally, paying a living wage, and creating pathways for income and professional advancement. For more information on the South LA Cafe ecosystem, visit southlacafe.com or follow @southlacafe.

Claire Atkinson, NHMLAC
catkinson@nhm.org; (213) 763-3532

Maura Klosterman-Vu, Polskin Arts