Enter Montrose’s new La La Land Kind Café and you’re likely greeted with a boisterous welcome of cheers and a barrage of customized compliments from a group of smiling faces.
“I love your hair!”
“Your outfit is amazing!”
And when you finally pick up your coffee or tea, a stranger will also send you off with this reminder: “We love you.”
For people who don’t know the culture, it can be confusing or refreshing. For those who shy away from compliments, possibly disorienting. (A man sitting outside after grabbing his drink as ask a friend puzzled “Are they on drugs?”). But at La La Land, this is par for the course.
The coffee shop, which has a following of nearly 6 million on TikTok alone, has built a reputation on kindness in its outposts in California and Texas, and it’s bringing yet another opportunity to experience the warm fuzzies at its second location in Houston, befittingly in Montrose, a neighborhood in the city known for its colorful disposition and variety of dining options.
Though the grand opening will be held Saturday, August 20, this extremely cheerful cafe in the Montrose Collective has already welcomed guests this week with its enthusiastic hellos, coffees, takeaway chia and oat puddings, and strawberry toast. Here, you’ll find a variety of milks chilled in dispensers, ready to compliment iced coffees and teas, like its Perfect Latte, made with espresso, milk, and a “secret sauce;” and the Lavender Bloom, which adds splashes of vanilla and purple lavender syrup to an iced coffee or matcha.
The menu focuses on breakfast favorites, including an array of fancy toasts, including the La La Classic avocado toast, which is sprinkled with lemon juice and chile flakes, and a sweet hazelnut butter toast topped with a Nutella-like spread and strawberries and bananas.
The Instagram-worthy cafe, itself, has a clean and bright aesthetic, with yellow accents; a “happy window,” where coffee is served; and merchandise — sold in-store and online — that includes t-shirts, hats, and mugs with cheeky sayings like “Don’t be a dick” and “Just be fuckin kind.”
But according to its management and employees, this push to “normalize kindness” (kindness first, coffee second) is not just for show. It’s a sincere business model that’s upheld in its working environment and even its ingredients.
For example, the hand-picked coffee beans and the matcha — a small batch, ceremonial-grade sourced from some of the oldest family-owned farms in Japan — are both fair-trade and purchased above market price in hopes of improving the quality of life and education within the communities from which they’re purchased.
Employees are also chosen thoughtfully. Building off of We Are One Project, the founder Francois Reihani’s nonprofit that provides tools for businesses to come together and employ foster youth, the cafe also makes an effort to hire people who have aged out of the foster care system. The cafe offers an eight-week internship program with paid on-the-job and customer service training, mentorship, and assistance with job placement, housing, schooling, and therapy. So far, La La’s operations manager Amaris Watje, who works in Houston, says one person formerly in the foster care system has graduated from its Heights location and now works at the shop full-time.
“We choose people who naturally want to be a positive light and be positive at work … who love what they’re doing and love getting compliments already, and that’s a very special person,” Watje says.
And online, the coffee shop has made a separate reputation entirely for its kindness drive-bys, during which employees shower strangers on the street with thoughtful compliments. Though the TikTok account is largely absent of any of its products, its dozens of reels have amassed more than a billion views and millions of followers, superseding the likes of Starbucks, Dunkin’, and even Disney.
And it all started with Reihani, who wanted to combine his love of hospitality and give back to the community while also creating a socially conscious and kind “dreamworld” for customers.
Following the launch of Pōk the Raw Bar — what was billed as the first poke restaurant in Dallas, Reihani first opened La La Land Kind Cafe in Los Angeles in 2019. He later branched off to Dallas, where La La now owns four locations. And it wasn’t long before Houstonians were begging for an outpost of their own.
According to a spokesperson, the company received more than 3,000 direct messages on social media and more than 1,500 phone calls about its Houston location. Now, La La Land has seven locations, opening its first Houston location in the Heights’ MKT in May, and its newest outpost in Montrose in August.
Now, locals can get their pick-me-ups in the form of caffeinated drinks, breakfast, or that unique La La energy any time of the week.
La La Land Kind Cafe will be open from 6:30 to 7 p.m. daily.