Chef Kyndra McCrary created a menu to give people great tasting and healthy food options.
By Jason Lewis
Black communities in Los Angeles and Inglewood have been a haven for fast-food restaurants, negatively impacting the health of local residents. Thankfully over the last few years, Black chefs have been opening their own restaurants to give the communities that they serve healthier options.
Add Chef Kyndra McCrary’s Swift Cafe in Leimert Park to that list. McCrary opened Swift Cafe on Crenshaw Boulevard, south of Stocker Street, in October of 2019. She had an opportunity to open a restaurant near The Grove, but her health journey led her to South Los Angeles, which has a higher concentration of Black residents.
“I always knew that I wanted to open a space in the inner city,” she said. “I personally have been through a health journey. Last year when I went to the doctor, I had high blood pressure. I had high cholesterol. I was pre-diabetic. The doctor told me that I really need to get it together. A lot of my family have these health issues. I realized that a lot of times in the inner city, there’s just not a lot of options for healthy foods. There’s a lot of fast food. And we all love soul food, but I just felt like in the community, we need better options for health. I made changes to my own diet, got with a trainer and nutritionist, and I lost 45 pounds. Months later I went back to the doctor and everything was better. My blood pressure was the lowest it’s ever been. My resting heart rate was low. I no longer had high cholesterol, I was no longer pre-diabetic. And I’m just like, all of this just from changing my eating. I did workout, but it was mostly from the eating. I wanted this for the community.”
McCrary’s menu is a reflection of places that she has traveled to.
“I wanted the menu to be diverse,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a lot of different countries and I’ve always been different in the ways that I cook, so the menu here has a lot of variety. It’s a lot of infusion of a lot of different countries that I’ve been to. But there’s also a little bit of that soul food vibe.”
Swift Cafe’s menu has elements of soul food, Caribbean food, Latin food, and Thai food. The soul food and Caribbean food elements comes from her grandmother, who inspired her to become a chef.
“I lived with my grandmother for a good portion of my life and she loved to cook a lot,” McCrary said. “She’s an amazing cook. It was always this joyous occasion every time she would cook. That’s when it sparked my interest. I took on practicing and trying to create my own things.”
McCrary’s grandmother is from Panama, and her grandfather is from Oklahoma, which led to the infusion of soul food and Caribbean food. Her grandmother would add a tasty spin to soul food by adding different curries and coconut milk.
McCrary obtained a degree in counseling from Master’s University in Santa Clarita, and she continued to cook while she worked for a court reporting agency after college.
“They would always order lunch, so I would start making stuff for the office,” she said. “Once I started getting feedback and seeing that they liked it, I thought that I was on to something. I was making a lot of stuff and giving it away at farmers’ markets just to see peoples’ response. Once people started requesting things, then I knew that it was time to make this official.”
McCrary attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts school, and after working in the restaurant business, she decided to branch out on her own by starting a catering company.
“I knew that catering was the route that I wanted to take because in the restaurant industry, it takes forever to work your way up,” she said. “I wanted to cook instead of prepping all the time. But I knew that I needed to learn, so I worked for free at a couple of hotels, working banquets, so that I could just watch how they did it for large orders and how they would do parties.”
Many of the items on Swift Cafe’s menu have the flavors that people have grown to love, but made in a healthy manner. Jerk chicken is one of the favorites, and the shrimp bowl is very popular. It has Caribbean flavors with black rice, mango, and avocado. Vegetables can be bland, but McCrary cooks them in a tasty and nutritious way.
“A lot of people don’t like to eat vegetables, or they’ll eat vegetables that are cooked to death,” McCrary said. “Where it’s tender and good, but there’s no nutrients in there. The colorful cauliflower is visually nice. The green beans, I added some Thai chili sauce to it to add a little sweetness, so that people who do not like normal green beans would like this.”
Swift Cafe also has amazing smoothies that tastes like dessert, but made in a healthy manner.
McCrary not only wanted to bring a healthy food option to a Black community, but she also wanted to create an atmosphere that mirrored the community. There are framed pictures that depict Leimert Park on her walls.
“That was very intentional,” she said. “Even though I’ve lived in L.A. for a while, a lot of the people in the community don’t know me. I didn’t want it to seem like I was coming in here and creating some different thing. I wanted people to know that this is for you. And I wanted people from the neighborhood to come in, look at the photos and recognize the pictures. It’s cool when people come in and have stories about these photos.”
McCrary also hired locally for her staff and she used local interior designer BPC Design to design the restaurant.