Homeboy Industries is one of the most instantly recognizable brands indigenous to the City of Angels, and now, the successful gang rehabilitation program (which helps over 10,000 at-risk individuals per year), is reaching out to Tinseltown to help give loyal workers a refreshingly bold, new place to call “home.”
We talk to Tom Vozzo, CEO of Homeboy Industries, and Dave Mannix, General Manager of the Culver Studios, about their newest venture and ongoing commitment to the community at large — which they hope will have a lasting impact on the entertainment industry for years to come.
Ruben Guevara: Now that Homegirl Café is a part of the Culver Studios lot, can you explain how this mutual partnership first began?
Tom Vozzo: The folks at Culver Studios were looking to change their commissary. They were searching for a new look and new menu that was also socially responsible. As we’re looking for a way to expand and give new opportunities to our clients, we wanted to grow outside of our one (Chinatown) café.
Were you looking to gain more notoriety in the process?
Tom Vozzo: That’s exactly right. We run a café downtown and it’s run by former trainees made up of “homeboys” and “homegirls,” folks who were once in gangs but have now straightened out their lives. We’ve had a documentary made about Homeboy Industries, and one of our clients is a star on “American Crimes,” so we already had certain touch-points within the entertainment industry. Culver Studios needed something that was different, and we were given an opportunity to expand. It proved to be a good marriage.
What kind of food can we expect from the Homegirl Café?
Tom Vozzo: We describe our food as “latin fusion,” and everything is made fresh every day. We even make our own sauces and soups, all from scratch.
Is there a difference between the Homeboy Café and the Homegirl Café?
Tom Vozzo: It’s essentially all one organization, but our Homegirl Café catering program is oriented to be more of a woman-only type of work environment. As a training program it makes sense — of course, getting men out of gang life is different from trying to get women out of gang life. Over time, we’ve developed a great reputation (and an excellent Zagat rating), but as we grow we also want to expand the label of “Homegirl Café” to this new kind of environment.
Were there any initial fears or concerns about bringing Homegirl Café to the lot?
Tom Vozzo: What we’ve demonstrated over the years, is that people come into our program and they completely transform their lives. As we continue to expand, everyone working at Homegirl Café in Culver City has already graduated from our training program and they’ve all proven themselves to be good, solid workers who are resilient enough to live their lives on the straight and narrow.
How does one apply to work at a place like Homeboy Industries?
Tom Vozzo: We provide services to many, many folks. For the folks who need help, they can come to our headquarters and we’ll support them through our own case management and educational courses. However, the number of trainees we can hire is limited by our budget, so for us to serve new people we need to grow our business and continue courting wealthy donors.
Has the deal with Culver Studios allowed you to expand your business model?
Tom Vozzo: Expanding our business is a nice win-win, because it provides us with more agency to have people back at our headquarters, and in turn provides more jobs for our future graduates. They’re good paying jobs, and they’re jobs they maybe wouldn’t have had otherwise. The Culver Studios has given us an opportunity to work outside of our confines, and we hope to show other companies — whether it be industry folks, or other businesses who need our help, that we can do a great job.
You mentioned earlier that Homeboy Industries starts all of its food from scratch. Is there an underlying message for the community that you and founder Greg Boyle hope to communicate through the food?
Tom Vozzo: We take great pride in our food being healthier and freshly made. What we teach our folks is to be proud of what you make — so an important aspect of what we’re doing is saying “let’s all take pride in our job.”
Dave, it’s been about two weeks now. As far as you can tell, how are things going at the Culver Studio lot?
Dave Mannix: Homeboy is a recognized name, people see it and say, “Geez, these guys are doing great things for the community — let me go in and try this.” They’ve got the customer service thing down, they know how to deal with people, and the food quality is superb.
Do you believe these strides in social responsibility and sustainable film practices are the key ingredients to keeping the film and television industry alive?
Dave Mannix: The revelation is that all of us who’ve worked in the studio business realize this can only help us. And I think we’re all eager to get involved and do what we can. It’s smart business, so there’s really no reason not to. We believe in conservation because we’re all in this together.
“If it’s the way you live your life, you want to have your company on the same page too.”