Francois Reihani, La La Land Kind Cafe CEO and We Are One Project founder, will receive the Judge Barefoot Sanders Champion of Children Award at Dallas CASA’s Champion of Children Award Dinner.
The dinner will be Oct. 12 at Fairmont Dallas. All funds raised at the event will benefit children served by the agency. The award is given annually to recognize community leaders who significantly improve the lives of youth in our community, particularly those whose lives have been marked by abuse, neglect, or other adversity.
Dallas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) recruits, trains, and supervises community members who serve as advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect and cannot safely live at home. Advocates work with children, their families, Child Protective Services caseworkers, attorneys, judges, educators, therapists, counselors, and other stakeholders.
Reihani’s unique “cafes with a purpose” focus on providing job opportunities and training for former foster youth who have aged out of the system. At La La Land Kind Cafes, youth are offered job training and mentorship. He was named one of People Newspapers’ 20 Under 40 in 2023.
“Francois is truly a one-in-a-million person,” said Kathleen M. LaValle, president and CEO of Dallas CASA. “Instead of seeing a big problem and turning away, he leaned in and looked for a solution. His cafes send a message to youth aging out of care that they matter, that there’s a place for the, and they have bright futures.”
Reihani opened his first cafe on lower Greenville in 2019 when he was 23. Since then, he has expanded to 11 locations in multiple Texas cities and California.
Reihani first learned about the challenges youth aging out of foster care face at a continuing education program at Dallas CASA in 2016. At the time, he was co-founder of Pok The Raw Bar, a new restaurant concept in Dallas.
“That meeting changed the whole pathway of my life,” Reihani said. “I could not understand how these youth had so little support. How was this even a problem? In Dallas, Texas?”
He started with the We Are One Project nonprofit that provided mentoring, counseling, life skill classes, and help with college and stable housing. When he recognized the need for additional support in job placement, he opened La La Land Kind Café to provide job training to former foster youth.
“I wanted to solve the whole problem immediately, so I hired 12 foster youth, and it was a disaster,” Reihani said. “Due to their trauma, they needed so much more support than I’d imagined. But we regrouped and refocused, and it started working. We’ve hit our stride now.”
“Some people think I am delusional with some of my big ideas,” he added. “It wasn’t clear in the beginning that this whole thing would work or how. It’s hard enough to make money with a coffee shop, but to make money and support a nonprofit? I guess that was a little delusional, honestly. But it proves something I always say: ‘When you do the right thing, magic happens.’”
The Champion of Children Award Dinner is chaired by Stephanie and David Krahe, Retta A. Miller, and Megan and Tom Sterquell. The honorary chairs are longtime supporters of Dallas CASA, Fran and Mark Berg.
The guest speaker for the evening is David Ambroz, author of the 2022 memoir “A Place Called Home,” which chronicles his childhood. He was recognized by President Barack Obama as an American Champion of Change. He previously led corporate social responsibility for Walt Disney Television and has served as a California Child Welfare Council member. Today, he is a foster dad living in Los Angeles and working in corporate community engagement.
Previous award winners include Jessica and Dirk Nowitzki, The Meadows Foundation, the Junior League of Dallas, NorthPark Center, and the Dallas CASA Classic hosts Goldman Sachs, Pioneer Natural Resources, and AT&T.
For more information, visit Dallas CASA’s website.