Oral Histories

Interview of Lonzia Shay

Second-generation owner of Little Red Hen Coffee Shop in Altadena, California, which was established by Shay’s mother in 1972.
Series:
"Where Do We Go from Here?" Histories of Long-term Black Business Ownership, Community, and Family in Los Angeles County
Topic:
African American History
Business
Interviewer:
Hester, Yolanda
Interviewee:
Shay, Lonzia
Persons Present:
Shay and Hester.
Place Conducted:
The Little Red Hen Coffee Shop in Altadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Yolanda Hester, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; M.A., African American studies, UCLA. Hester prepared for the interview in this series by looking at a number of books and articles that examined Black business ownership in a historical context, as well as articles that examined it from a social science perspective and looked at current socioeconomic debates and findings. For the Shay interview, she also reviewed reviews and articles in local media, such as the Pasadena Star News and the Pasadena Weekly.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of session two. Because of technical problems with the recording, the audio for session one was poor and difficult to understand, and so instead of compiling a timed log, the interviewer transcribed that entire session. Shay was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
Length:
1.25 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Series Statement:
This series documents long-term and multigenerational business ownership in the black community through oral history interviews with owners of businesses located in Los Angeles County. The title is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, which The title is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, which focused on economic issues, including issues related to black-owned businesses. Businesses were chosen to participate in the series based on two criteria: that the business had been in operation for at least twenty-five years and that it was currently active at the time of the interview. An effort was also made to ensure that the businesses selected represented a variety of sizes and industries. They range from small, local businesses with only a couple of employees to enterprises that have a regional and even national reach, and the industries represented include construction, real estate, insurance, communications, dry cleaning, restaurants and catering, mortuaries, barbershops, and stove repair. Due to limited resources and time constraints, the interviews focused primarily on businesses in the Pasadena area and in South Los Angeles, with selected businesses in Hollywood, Gardena, and downtown Los Angeles as well. South Los Angeles remains one of the most important centers of Black economic activity in the region, and the Pasadena area has historically been a final stop for many Blacks who migrated to Southern California. It is also important to note that although the series focused mostly on these two areas, the reach and customer base of these businesses span well beyond their local communities. The first section of each oral history covers the individual’s family and migration history. The second and third sections then examine each business from two perspectives: (1) the day-to-day functioning of the business, i.e., staffing, profit and losses, marketing, etc., and (2) broader businesses strategies, including responses to policy changes, technological development, demographic shifts, and changes in the economy. For reasons that included scheduling, health, and capacity issues, some of the business owners who were invited to be interviewed declined. Those businesses included Eso Won Books, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Pete’s Foods Products, Winmax Construction Corporation, Beauchamp Distributing Company, and Gallery Plus. The UCLA Center for Oral History Research has also created a website that offers more context about black businesses in Los Angeles and includes numerous audio clips from this interview series. See https://www.library.ucla.edu/community-commerce-oral-histories-african-american-businesses-los-angeles
Birth and family background--Migration to Los Angeles--Life in Mississippi--Early years in Pasadena--Mother’s early real estate investing--Mother buys The Little Red Hen in 1972--Early childhood--First job--Brother “hid in the dark”--Religion--The beginnings of The Little Red Hen—Start-up money--Early jobs--Learning to cook at Bullocks--The importance of food in the Shay family--Family’s involvement in politics--Racial dynamics in Mississippi--Dropping out of high school--Watts Riots—Black-owned businesses in the neighborhood--Working at Bullocks and learning how to cook--Work history--Working for his mother--Working at Optimist Boys’ Home--Clientele at the Red Hen.
Life in Mississippi--Becoming owner of The Little Red Hen--Changes made to The Red Hen--Staffing--Customer loyalty--Competition--Catering--Retirement--Technology.