At Hank’s Mini Market, in the Hyde Park area of South L.A., things are changing. Kelli Jackson stepped away from a career in art to take over the family business and, working with partners including the L.A. Food Policy Council, the local arts community, and, now, the national restaurant chain Sweetgreen, is pursuing a vision that combines healthy food and community empowerment.
“Coming from a background of public art, where we discussed how art can enhance communities, bring a sense of belonging, and reimagine places and spaces, I began questioning what a corner store could be,” Jackson says. “How can I take what my dad built, and push it forward? I realized, to make my own impact in this community, I needed to create a bright spot for our community that helps to bridge the lack of safe spaces, art, and healthy food options.”
Hank’s has been a part of the neighborhood for over 20 years, during which time Jackson’s father, Hank, became a fixture of the community. “I watched my dad help so many people and families over the years with his generous heart and listening ear that provided advice and encouragement when needed,” Jackson says. “Over time, we have grown with the community. We have seen generations grow up, we know our customers names and everyone knows our family.”
And while she was inspired by her father’s connection to the people who came through the shop doors, Jackson never expected she would one day be taking over the family business. She pursued her own path, but as the years took their toll on the shop and her dad got ready to retire, she decided it was time to step in, and build on what Hank had started.
“I wasn’t seeing businesses invest in the area. We see a lot of fast-food chains and 7-Elevens, but no safe spaces for the kids, no access to healthy food,” she says. “I wanted to continue my dad’s legacy, but incorporate more of who I am, using art and food to inspire and uplift the community.”
Creating the store and community space of her dreams wasn’t going to be easy—or cheap. For Jackson’s vision to be fulfilled, the building needed more than a coat. There were top-to-bottom renovations she wanted to make and amenities she wanted to add: new refrigeration units able to keep perishable foods fresh, energy-efficient lighting on the building’s exterior to enhance appeal and safety, and secure bicycle parking to encourage biking to the shop.
“We are creating a healthy market and a community hub, a place for food demos and panel discussions, and a place where local artists and entrepreneurs can share their stories within our neighborhood, but our old space couldn’t accommodate those things,” Jackson notes.
Jackson linked up with the L.A. Food Policy Council, becoming a member of that body’s Healthy Neighborhood Market Network, a program that supports entrepreneurs as they work to bring healthy and affordable food options to underserved communities across Los Angeles. After two years of work with the council, she found out that L.A.-based Sweetgreen was looking for a local shop for a collaboration. When the company selected Hank’s, Jackson was overjoyed.
“This partnership made a vision I had for years come true faster than I could have imagined,” she says. “It’s one thing to have a vision and another to implement it. I realized quickly that I couldn’t do this all alone. Sweetgreen was the missing link to bring the vision to life. Since day one, they have opened their hearts and business to Hank’s.”
In addition to new facilities and a colorful, modern look—including a mural of Jackson’s personal motto, “stronger together”—the market got an inventory overhaul, focusing on making locally grown, fresh produce available at accessible prices. The Sweetgreen staff also offered mentorship on running a business, which Jackson thinks will have a ripple effect beyond just her own bustling store.
“As we grow to become a healthy, sustainable business, we can inspire and help our own community and neighborhood become healthy as well,” she says. “Usually mom and pop stores want to change and grow but don’t have the capacity. Small businesses that have been around for years aren’t able to grow with time and the changes and dynamics of their neighborhood, and as a result, big business usually come in and push small businesses out. I feel blessed and grateful for the team that surrounded us to bring something new and fresh to our Hyde Park community.”
She also hopes she won’t be the only small business owner to benefit from this type of collaboration. “This side of the city deserves better, up-to-date options and variety in their shopping experiences and places they gather,” she says. “I hope that this partnership will show other businesses that it is time to create and invest within the South L.A. area. I hope that our store inspires others with their own dreams and endeavors.”
After celebrating a grand re-opening over the weekend, the doors to Hank’s Mini Market are back open, and Jackson is ready to share her vision with her customers, new and long-standing.
“I knew this transformation of our store was going to be different, but the idea of offering more access to healthy food and community building was important to me,” she says. “I want our space to be a bright spot to the neighborhood, and I hope this project inspires people to think about ways to live a healthy and happy life.”
Hank’s Mini Market, 3301 W. Florence Ave, Los Angeles