March R-Guide

March 2021 marks my fifth year as Speaker of the California State Assembly. We’ve made notable progress in addressing education inequity, immigrant rights, and police brutality. However, there is much more work to be done.

We've been heavily impacted by this pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated many inequalities from housing to education to income, and communities of color have less access to COVID-19 vaccines.

My office and I are working to bring more vaccination sites to our communities and get our seniors vaccinated.

You can find information about COVID-19 vaccination sites, testing, food assistance, and other resources on LA County's website here.

This month, the R-Guide is dedicated to exceptional people and businesses in Southeast LA: Lakewood soccer star, Jalen Neal; Latina-owned business, Cake and Coffee House in South Gate; and Paramount business, Marukan Vinegar, U.S.A.

Jalen Neal

Lakewood Soccer Star signs with LA Galaxy

At just 3 years old, Jalen Neal was a natural at soccer. "I've loved kicking things my whole life and soccer just happens to have a lot of kicking in it,' he joked. "My whole life I've enjoyed playing soccer more than anything else. It brings me immense happiness." Now at 17, Jalen has signed his first Major League Soccer contract as a defender with the LA Galaxy.

Born in Long Beach, Jalen grew up in Lakewood, where he continued to excel in soccer, holding his own against 8-year-olds as a kindergartner. Despite his notable talent, Jalen remembers his earliest soccer memories and recalls just being a kid, "playing through AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) and eating oranges or grapes at halftime."

Jalen's cooperation and composure on the field distinguished him as a formidable defender. In 2016, he was recruited by the LA Galaxy Youth Academy, which trains elite athletes. At the Academy, Jalen gained national attention with 69 appearances in the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy. He also played for the U.S. Youth National U16 team.

As a rising soccer star, Jalen is going far, but he hasn't forgotten where he comes from. He volunteers with Care Closet LBC, which distributes food, sleeping bags, and socks to the homelessness. Last Christmas, Jalen partnered with Care Closet LBC to give out supplies to those most in need.

When asked about advice for aspiring athletes, Jalen encouraged confidence and humbleness. "Personally, I think the most important advice is to be patient, never doubt your talent and ability, and always be on the lookout to learn," he said.

I'm excited to see Jalen represent Lakewood on the LA Galaxy team. His talent and accomplishments are a source of pride for our community, but it's Jalen's compassion for others that sets him apart as a leader with a promising future.

Cake and Coffee House

Cake and Coffee House

One day, Saida Castro looked down Tweedy Boulevard and realized that there was no local coffee shop in the area of South Gate. "Sure there was Starbucks, but not something more family owned," said Saida. Seeking more for their community, she and her husband opened Cake and Coffee House.

Opened in 2019, Cake and Coffee House prepares traditional and unique drinks and treats. "I love being creative with drinks, adding different flavors to coffee and doing holiday-themed drinks," noted Saida. Some of her creations include the butterfly lemonade, red velvet latte, s'mores frappe, and the love potion latte for Valentine's Day. Cake and Coffee House also makes a variety of food such as avocado toast, paninis, and delicious pastries.

Cake and Coffee House became a meeting spot in the community. "We were doing open mic nights, pop ups, and other social things to advertise we were open," said Saida. That all changed in 2020. "The pandemic has affected us a lot, we opened in September of 2019 so we were just getting started when the pandemic hit us," explained Saida. Despite these challenges, Cake and Coffee House has kept faithful customers. "The community has been so supportive, which is a reason why we are still here open and surviving," Saida said.

Saida started Cake and Coffee House because she wanted to invest in her community. It's so important that those who are able return that investment in our small businesses. You can find more info about Cake and Coffee House by visiting their website.

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Marukan Vinegar

Marukan Vinegar

Paramount business, Marukan Vinegar, traces its roots back to seventeenth-century Japan. In 1649, Yasutsugu Hanzaemon Okada started producing refined vinegar. More than 30 years later, he passed the company down to his son who later left it to his son. This family business began a 370-year tradition of producing premium rice vinegar.

Nearly 200 years after its founding, Marukan branched out to the Japanese cities of Kobe, Tokyo, and Nagoya, where their entire facility was destroyed by bombings during World War II. Despite this tragedy, Marukan built a new facility eight years later and set out to sell high-quality vinegar products around the world.

Marukan came to Paramount in the 1970s to produce rice vinegar and specialty vinegars for the growing sushi market. Today, rice vinegar has become popular in salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and pickling.

This year, Marukan announced two new products: organic apple cider vinegar and the world's-first drinkable blend of rice water apple cider vinegar. "Thanks to our generations-old tradition, we're able to offer health enthusiasts a smooth-tasting apple cider vinegar, as well as apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar that they will actually want to drink," said Jon Tanklage, President of Marukan Vinegar USA, Inc.

Recognized as 2010 Business of the Year by the City of Paramount, Marukan has become a staple in our community. Despite its global presence, the company has stayed true to the rice water fermenting technique passed down for generations.

For more information about Marukan and its products plus recipes and other resources, please visit their website and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest pages.

Photo at left: I toured Marukan's Paramount facility in 2019

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