How One Woman Turned A Food Desert Into A Food Oasis

Allison Sanchez

I’m in a brightly lit grocery store in Hyde Park, a southside Los Angeles neighborhood, waiting to start an interview. The long, retro-looking table in front of me would fit nicely at any West Hollywood farm-to-fork restaurant. Behind me are drawings by neighborhood kids. Another wall features a chic bookcase with hanging plants. All around are little splashes of color — bananas, watermelon, kale — mixed in with the standard store staples.

It’s stylish yet unpretentious; cozy yet sleek. I hit record on my computer.

“Oh sorry, hold on!” Kelli Jackson says.

The door has opened an older man walks in. Kelli greets him by name and steps behind the counter. She readies his order before he asks. This happens a few more times during our conversation. The woman knows her customers and wants them to feel welcome, a scarcity in a city as large as LA. Speaking personally, I can tell you one neighbor’s name on a block of maybe 50 residents. Kelli’s not like that. Hank’s Mini Market is a small store and Jackson strives to promote the feeling that everyone’s family.

It’s a tradition that started in her actual family. Her dad owned the store before her.

“I learned that from my parents,” Kelli says. “They just were very caring and took the time to get to know people.”

When someone came up short one month, Kelli’s dad, Hank, would let them use credit. It wasn’t just a gesture of good faith, it was a way to let folks know someone believed in them. Kelli is the same way, she believes passionately in the residents of her neighborhood. It’s why she took over the store in her underserved community. Why she put the work and money into renovating and transforming it. Why she stocks fruits and veggies that were previously hard to find in this food desert. She believed that it could be something more and that the neighborhood deserved that.