Ex-gang members now hang in South L.A. ‘Kitchen’

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When you think of potential locations for hot, up-and-coming places to eat, South L.A. may not be the first neighborhood that comes to mind. But that’s exactly where you’ll find an underground restaurant called Trap Kitchen LA.  And the location isn’t the only thing that’s unusual about it.

Food writer Javier Cabral checked it out recently for VICE’s food blog, Munchies. He says Trap Kitchen LA is the brainchild of two guys, Malachi Jenkins and Roberto Arturo Smith. They’re friends and business partners who also happen to come from rival street gangs.

 We asked Cabral, “How did the two guys meet?”

“There are certain things you don’t ask,” Cabral said. “I was asking as much questions as I could, but also allowing their space and not allowing myself to dive too deep into their private lives.”

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Jenkins studied cuisine in Las Vegas after teaching himself cooking as part of his need to fend for himself growing up in Compton. Before he went into the restaurant business, Cabral said Jenkins got by working for pimps as a personal chef. What dishes do pimps request? Creamy pastas and soul food, Cabral said.

Jenkins and Smith now provide deliveries as far away as the San Fernando Valley to meet exponentially growing demand, Cabral said. They cook everything from chicken fajitas to gumbo.

They considered getting a food truck but realized that a big part of their food business is providing a space for people to hang out “where their friends can come and not just eat their amazing food but also chill out.”