South L.A., down the block from the police precinct and the fire station, next to the discount store and across from the parking lot full of trucks, probably isn’t where you’d expect to find some of the city’s most carefully calibrated smoothies. But chef Roy Choi is all about unlikely blends.
Choi’s 3 Worlds Cafe on Central Avenue, which just launched a food truck that will park at some of the chef’s Kogi BBQ stops, is about healthful eating, empowering students, and providing a chill place for locals to gather. It’s a collaboration with Jefferson High School, where there’s a 3 Worlds work-study program.
“This is a cafe going against the odds,” Choi says. “We started in a school on the DL. No one knew about us. We impacted two years of students’ lives—30 kids. The cafe is thriving in the community: free WiFi, drinks, coffees, jobs.”
Now, with help from produce giant Dole, Choi is taking the cafe’s smoothies, Dole Whip (yes, the hard-to-find pineapple soft-serve you might have tried at Disneyland), boba drinks, and guava pastries on the road with the 3 Worlds truck.
“I thought more of L.A. was going to come down below the 10 freeway and support, but that’s cool, I understand,” Choi tells Los Angeles magazine at Tuesday’s launch event for the truck. “The community has supported it, but now it’s like, alright, instead of me expecting y’all to come down to South L.A., we’ve created a truck to take our love to the rest of L.A. The truck is our attempt to break through that glass. I could have parked this anywhere. If I had parked this in Koreatown, there would be 70 people in line.”
Because Choi is involved, the truck is serving all killer, no filler. Consider the Mango Bomb with mango, banana, pineapple, coconut milk, pineapple juice, and lemon juice.
“You can get a 20-ounce, 100 percent real fruit smoothie, no dairy, no ice, no powders, for $5,” 3 Worlds managing partner Aqeela Sherrills says. “Nowhere else in the city can you get that. If you can get a $5, 100 percent smoothie anywhere else in the city, I’m going to give it to you for free.”
Even though Choi is working with students, his standards here are as high as they are anywhere else.
“For the first year and a half, I swear to God, man, every week chef Roy would come in and test the coffee, he would test the smoothies, he would talk about the whole portion control,” says Sherrills, an activist known for his role in brokering a peace agreement between the Bloods and the Crips. “He would come in, crack the whip, and we loved it. It just speaks to his commitment to the community. He’s always present and available to support young folks and especially healthy-food initiatives.”
Choi says that 3 Worlds has “always been Kogi’s non-profit wing, but we’re not all formal and fancy like that.”
But now, it’s clear that 3 Worlds has the city’s most famous food truck in its camp.
“We’re going to bring [3 Worlds] where Kogi is,” Choi says. “This is a part of Kogi. The truck has open range to stop at any Kogi stop whether it’s Diamond Bar, Granada Hills, Signal Hill, Long Beach State, wherever.”
The truck will be at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival and the South L.A. Power Festival as well. It will also park in front of Loco’l, the game-changing fast food restaurant Choi and chef Daniel Patterson are launching in Watts later this year.
“I think 3 Worlds in many ways was and is a very pure and raw form of where life has led me to Loco’l,” says Choi, who aims to make Loco’l a chain that will offer affordable, high-quality meals in underserved areas. “We just got the keys [for the Watts location], we start demo in a couple weeks.”
Choi then starts going through the construction and employee-training schedule, and I interrupt to tell him that I can just say he’s working to open later in the year. But the chef, ever determined, wants to make it clear that he’s not blowing smoke with Loco’l.
“No, I’m telling you the f—ing truth,” he says. “If that all happens, that leaves us November/December to try to get this thing open. My goal is, I will not go into 2016 without Loco’l open. And if it’s December 31, 2015 and it’s not open, I will sell the burger on the street on a foldout table January 1, 2016, you know what I’m saying? Or we’ll sell it out of the 3 Worlds truck.”
Follow 3 Worlds Cafe on Twitter for the truck’s location.