‘Leche Cafe’ encourages local talent and literacy
“A place for talent, a place for literacy;” this is the motto of the Leche Cafe and Bookstore. And Jesse Pelayo’s ambitions for a welcoming, the-spot-to-be location is coming to fruition “little by little.”
Pelayo is a teacher and the owner of Leche Cafe, a venue in Norwalk that regularly hosts comedy shows, open-mic nights and musical guests.
Holistic contribution of talent
Thought to have been a roadblock, finding talent to entertain the customers of Leche Cafe on a regular basis is not a challenge for the cafe owner.
Pelayo said,“The amount of talent college students and just professionals; it’s incredible. People just start coming in. And everyday we get about three or four people coming in and saying ‘hey, I want to perform here. I want to play here.’ So we haven’t had the lack of interest in performing.”
On a monthly basis, attendees can consistently find entertainment at the cafe, with improv groups, musical guests, among others, regularly performing for customers.
Behind the Leche
Playing both parts of teacher and cafe owner is exhausting for Pelayo, but he found a pleasant surprise through the willingness of others to contribute and help where needed.
“To juggle both responsibilities has been hectic to say the least. But I’m getting some support. I didn’t realize people were so willing to give their time. People willing to give has helped out tremendously.”
Suejin Kim, program director for ASES Prep, an after school program targeted at elementary students, for the Norwalk and La Mirada school district, is among the contributors.
“We try to bring as much business as we can,” she said. “We (Jesse and I) are both fans of one another. I’m a huge advocate of the work he’s doing in trying to get reading and literature accessible to people of the community.”
Pelayo went on to call Kim “pivotal since the beginning,” as she was one of the first teachers to consistently attend the venue.
“She’s been coming in religiously. And (ASES members) come and have their staff development here on Wednesday nights. So that helps tremendously,” Pelayo said.
Kim said, “This is sort of the perfect environment for not only our educators, but for our students.”
A yearning for literary development
A promotion of literacy is a common goal for Pelayo and Kim, and the recent emergence of Leche Cafe and Bookstore is the platform that they needed in order to promote such an initiative.
An overlooked part of Leche Cafe is the “Bookstore” part of the local.
Pelayo really wants to push the promotion of literacy among not only students and kids, but have it widespread among the community.
The cafe has one and two dollar promotions on books, a discounted marketing attempt to push literacy in people.
He said, “I didn’t read for pleasure until I was about 18. So it immediately clicked in my head, the importance of books. People don’t understand how important it is. I have not had it before, so when I started reading for pleasure it was a huge impact. So much so that I actually became a teacher by the impact reading had on me.”
Being a teacher, Pelayo only naturally found a partnership with Kim.
She said, “If we as a school district or a district entity program can support literacy and all of the businesses that are about literacy development, then I think we’re working together to promote that in the community.”
Kim mentioned how a local like Leche Cafe and its book offerings are merely “one step” in the big scheme of things.
“Intrinsically motivating people, whether they are students in the program, out of the program, in the community, to be invested in and see the value in reading. That’s going to take more time. So it’s more than just the presence of the bookstore. It takes cultivation over time of the culture of reading.”
Although there is an apparent negligence in terms of the book portion of Leche Cafe, the initiatives and the promotion of literacy is a step in the right direction, according to Pelayo. Like Kim said, it takes time. But the important part is that it’s getting there.
‘Little by little’
There are two challenges for the cafe, attracting the customers and overcoming its seemingly hidden location.
“What I’ve learned is that people from Norwalk don’t typically go to Norwalk for coffee … People in Norwalk are not used to coming here for that sort of thing,” Pelayo said. It’s sort of a challenge. And the other challenge is that it’s sort of hidden … there’s no visibility, so if you’re not looking for it, it’s very difficult to see it.
In its early stages, the cafe is not necessarily making steady revenue, but Pelayo is optimistic about the prospect of the business sustaining itself, as right now, his wife and two sons are the ones running it in a family-type occupation.
“The idea is that within two to three months to be able to have enough business to not have to live here, basically.”
Pelayo wants the cafe to be more than just walking in, buying a drink and leaving. He wants people to stay here and utilize the resources available.
It’s a true love of his job.
“I love doing this. I enjoy this very much. I think when you start planning for a new business, for me in particular, I had a vision as to how I wanted it to look like. And this place, little by little, is looking like how I envisioned.”
Leche Cafe and Bookstore is located at 11723 Firestone Blvd, Norwalk, CA 90650