Louise Elliott couldn’t believe what she saw – or perhaps didn’t see – when she pulled into the parking lot of the future home of ICAN California Abilities Network in Torrance last week.
On Thursday night, Dec. 19, members of the nonprofit organization left a trailer containing a pop-up coffee cart in the parking lot behind the building on the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Vine Avenue. The lots three entrances had all been secured with chain and locks.
By Friday morning, Dec. 20, Elliott saw an empty lot and a lock on the ground. The trailer, containing the Hermosa Coffee Co. cart, was gone.
Everyone was wondering how it was possible, the 43-year-old Elliott said. “I’m sure they took it without realizing what was in it.” More than $20,000 worth of equipment was stolen.
All that remained was a kegerator used for cold brew and kombucha, Elliott said, since it had been taken inside the building.
Torrance police received a call and took a report of the theft about 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, Sgt. Alexander Martinez said.
Detectives are investigating the case, but had no leads, Martinez said. A check for surveillance video in the area did not produce any evidence.
ICAN, currently based in Redondo Beach, aims to serve those with disabilities and provide them with life-skills training, supported employment and social programming, Elliott said. Since 2014, the program has seen at least 150 people with developmental disabilities get jobs with supported employment.
The organization started by offering summer camps in Hermosa Beach in 1975.
Scott and Louise Elliott began volunteering with the organization 25 years ago, she said. Scott Elliott was named director in 1996, according to its website.
The organization supports those with developmental disabilities who have completed school. They get client referrals from nearby regional centers.
Since 2017, the Hermosa Coffee Co. cart is one of the ways in which the nonprofit has provided clients with work experience and training. The coffee cart has popped up in various locations in the South Bay and Los Angeles – including local festivals like the Hermosa Beach Fair and the Renegade Fair in Los Angeles.
Workers get paid for the hours they operate the cart, which offers cold brew, kombucha, coffee, espresso and lattes at a couple of locations every week and at private events, Elliott said.
“They’ve taken it hard,” she said. “They thought the business was done.”
Some were left asking for a Christmas miracle.
“I asked Santa to help find it,” said Dane Wells, 26, who has worked the coffee cart and has enjoyed talking with its customers for four years.
Cheyne Smith, 24, of Torrance joined the coffee cart crew in September and he quickly developed a niche for crafting cold brew and kombucha.
Crew members made him feel welcomed immediately, he said.
“The best thing is making people smile,” Smith said. “I was shocked when I heard the news. I was devastated because there was a lot of stuff in there.”
Thanks to donations from the community, clients may be able to get back to work sooner than expected.
A GoFundMe page that was made shortly after the organization lost its cart had raised more than $27,900 as of Friday morning.
Elliott wasn’t sure exactly when a new cart would be ready to go, but said Thursday that the organization was hoping to have a quicker version made in January.
“It’s amazing,” she said of the community support, “that and the words of encouragement just keep you going forward.”