Skip to Content
Featured

This Mexican Restaurant Plans To Serve Hot Meals to Children Detained in the Long Beach Convention Center

Luis Navarro, the chef and CEO of his family’s own 14-year-old Lola’s Mexican Cuisine in Long Beach, was watching KTLA on Monday when he learned the children would arrive any day now.

In early April, the City of Long Beach agreed to partner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to utilize the Long Beach Convention Center as a “temporary holding center” for up to 1,000 unaccompanied migrant children for a period of 90-120 days. And now the kids were coming.

Almost immediately, Navarro picked up the phone and reached out to the mayor’s office, hoping his family could do whatever possible to provide some small comfort to these children amid their scary, dangerous journeys and ongoing detention.

By Wednesday, Lola’s started spreading the word about its plans. The restaurant, which has two LBC locations, is creating an emergency fund to prepare or provide hot meals to the detained children, using 100% of the proceeds from its merchandise, donations, and gift card sales.

“I’m trying to put myself in the situation of a child who has just traveled 1,500-2,500 miles, who is here by themself, been in a camp, being processed for who knows how long,” Navarro tells L.A. TACO. “Why not greet them with a hot homemade meal? That’s what we’re working towards.”

The undertaking is a continuation of the work Lola’s started once the Covid-19 pandemic struck, when it partnered with global non-profit World Central Kitchen to provide meals to community elders sheltering at home. By mid-April 2020, the restaurant had organized a network of Long Beach food businesses who together were making and serving over 1,500 meals a day.

Now that they know how to do it, and that they can do it, they want to do it again.

Navarro, who grew up in Norwalk and La Mirada, but has called LBC home since 1999, wants to create a similar system at the Convention Center, whether Lola’s handles the cooking alone or with the help of nearby restaurants. If not permitted to prepare meals for the kids directly, they’ll finance and maintain an emergency reserve fund that will help feed them.

Navarro says the Convention Center news offered him at least some sense of relief. He feels that the existing detainment facilities and migrant camps create further chaos and uncertainty in these kids’ lives.

In Long Beach, perhaps the children can reap some benefits from more concerned members of the community, like his family. As opposed to the previous administration, he also feels the move provides better clarity and compassion for those migrating to the United States from Central America and Mexico.

“There’s a lot of hatred,” he says. “People don’t take the time to understand why people are migrating in the first place. And these are children by themselves in a new country. I can’t even imagine how petrified they are. It’s a relief to see that at least something is being done.”

Navarro believes Mayor Robert Garcia’s intention is to help reunite the kids with family.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” he admits. “We don’t know what this entails or what the whole game plan is. I know that the #1 goal of the mayor, as stated, is to reunite these children with their families. And I really hope that is the case.”

His optimism is buoyed by receptiveness from the mayor’s office, which he has been in frequent contact with, along with indications that a number of local people and entities are also reaching out, trying to do something to alleviate the children’s suffering.

Navarro himself immediately heard from others who wanted to volunteer and help Lola’s, such as nearby pizza spot Four Horsemen.

If you want to help them out, too, the merch is cooler than your average restaurant swag, with gothic-scripted windbreakers bearing a pachuco cross, locally handwoven serape blankets, and coffee beans from Chiapas roasted right in Long Beach.

If anyone would rather donate through a gift card, you or someone you love can use it for a meal, and enjoy a dish like the Coca-Cola-braised carnitas or pork-shoulder-and-veal birria, which is made that way because their Jalisciense abuela was never a big chivo fan. These gift cards can also be donated back to the restaurant as a way of contributing cash straight to the fund.

Either way, Navarro simply wants to use what his family does to provide whatever degree of solace is possible into the lives of children caught in a heartbreaking, embattled situation.

“While they are here, whether it’s for days or weeks, if we can grace them with a little bit of love, that is our ultimate goal,” he says. “These children need some love.”

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from L.A. TACO

This Peruvian Street-Style Fried Chicken Inside a 30-Year-Old Taquería Is the Valley’s Best-Kept Secret

“I'm very proud of bringing our food, Peruvian food, and the acceptance from our Mexican brothers,” says chef Omar Zavala, who is from Peru and took over Taqueria Juanito's with his wife, Carmen, five years ago.

May 22, 2024

New In the L.A. TACO Shop

We've restocked some of your favorite items and added some great new ones. If you can't become a member, buying our merchandise is also a great way to support our inclusive street-level journalism! All of our t-shirts are hand-printed in Los Angeles.

May 21, 2024

Open Thread: What Is L.A.-Style Food?

What is L.A. food to you? Which cuisines, restaurants, or chefs have defined our city's uniquely good eats? Tell us your thoughts.

Money Has Run Out for Fruits and Vegetables for Low-Income Californians. Elected Leaders Are Silent.

The fresh food rebate pilot program delivered on its promises, but politicians won’t promise to put it in the budget.

May 20, 2024

Protester Whose Testicle Exploded After LAPD Officer Shot Him with ‘Less Lethal’ Firearm Receives $1.5 Million Settlement

Benjamin Montemayor had been protesting on Hollywood Boulevard for several hours on June 2, 2020, when at least 50 police officers descended upon his group and began firing munitions at the crowd, according to his civil rights lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court.

May 17, 2024
See all posts