Percell Keeling, the owner of Simply Wholesome, stands behind the health food store register. (Photo by Kara Smith)
Los Angeles Center For Enriched Studies

Simply a necessity: Jamaican eatery Simply Wholesome sustains a healthy community

Simply Wholesome is a restaurant and health food store in View Park-Windsor Hills that focuses on serving health-conscious meals while showcasing Jamaican culture through their cuisine and decorative design.

“A lot of food in the Windsor Hills community was saturated in grease,” Percell Keeling, the owner of Simply Wholesome said. “I used to have to go to places in Hollywood just to get real, nice, clean food like a veggie burger or protein drinks.”

The Caribbean-inspired restaurant serves Jamaican cuisine with vegan options, including semi-circle shaped patties that are filled with spinach, cabbage, chicken or curry. They also have over 30 soy-based smoothies including Peaches and Cream, made with peach juice, ice cream and protein powder, and Caribbean delight, made with pineapple, coconut and apple juice.

Every month on a Saturday, Caribbean soul bands play on Simply Wholesome’s glass-encased terrace for all enjoy while they eat.

“Cultural Soul,” a Caribbean Soul band plays on the restaurants terrace while customers eat and watch. (Photo by Kara Smith)

Amanda Agee, a regular customer, said she appreciates Simply Wholesome’s efforts to provide nutritious meals.

“I don’t usually see stores in African American communities that serve healthy food, which is why I support this place so strongly,” Agee said. “It’s very important for us to have our health in check. In the black household, you aren’t used to the health. I’m glad that’s changing.”

The health food store, which is located to the right of the restaurant, features 107 vendors of color, said Apryl Sims, general manager of Simply Wholesome.

Sims, who started at Simply Wholesome cleaning the tables for fun, said it’s important to eat nourishing food.

“For a long time historically … life has been difficult. I know that liquor is a way to drown your sorrows,” Sims said. “However, by eating healthy you are strengthening your resolve to overcome those tragedies that have been put upon us, as a result of being snatched away from our homeland — slavery, bondage and discrimination.”

Some of the products in the health food store sold are nuts, kombucha, essential oils, herbal supplements — such as, ginger and red clover — teas and alkaline water.

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Simply Wholesome was originally located across the street, where Halls Krispy Krunchy Chicken is now. During that time, Keeling sold vitamins, herbal supplements, smoothies and sandwiches. Keeling’s ex-wife added the patty component, serving empanadas and other types of Jamaican cuisine, according to Sims.

Together, both elements from Caribbean and Jamaican culture, and health can be seen in Simply Wholesome’s architecture, food, and entertainment.

Keeling said that Simply Wholesome had become a pillar for the community in 1992 during the L.A Riots. During the uprising, rioters were planning to hit up the Asian-owned laundromat that was located next to the restaurant at the time, but decided not to because Simply Wholesome was African American-owned, Keeling said.

“It gave me an indication that there was more than this than I thought [and that] people appreciated what Simply Wholesome was doing,” Keeling said.

Eight years after the L.A. riots, Keeling was threatened with eviction and decided to purchase the abandoned Wich Stand — a 1950s style restaurant — across the street, which is where Simply Wholesome currently resides today, Sims said.

Simply Wholesome’s exterior is painted a forest green color with Googie architectural elements, a building style that arose in the late 1950s influenced by car culture and other futuristic elements, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The most apparent Googie stylistic feature is a dark green, diamond-shaped spear that shoots through the restaurant’s roof — each corner of the spear encased in a line bold yellow neon light.

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Inside, countless Bob Marley posters can be seen hanging against the green and yellow walls that resemble the Jamaican flag.

Keeling said his experience as a salesperson shaped the way he runs Simply Wholesome.

“I was always a salesperson,” Keeling said. “I used to work in a liquor store, I was selling alcohol, totally different. But what that taught me was how to relate to different types of people because selling is an art. When somebody doesn’t want something, you turn it around and make them think that they want it. When you’re selling a product, you’re selling your personality.”

Melanie Edmonds a customer of the restaurant said, Simply Wholesome is a landmark for the African American community.

“To know within this area that there’s a place that is conscious of providing healthy varieties of food for everyone is important,” Edmonds said.

Mara Brock Akil, a regular Simply Wholesome customer, considers the restaurant home.

“It’s a place where you feel safe. It’s easy, and the fact that what they’re serving is good, it’s just a good vibe here,” Akil said.

Keeling wants people to know that although Simply Wholesome has a good reputation and is supported and loved by many, the people have the final say in where they spend their money.

“Simply Wholesome is a luxury, not a necessity,” Keeling said. “People don’t have to come to simply Wholesome to eat. They have options. They can go to 7-Eleven and buy juice. It might not be as healthy, but they can get it and they won’t die. Or they can go home and make a sandwich. It might not be as good but they can still make it.”

Although Keeling may feel that it’s a luxury, many customers feel that Simply Wholesome is their simple, bare necessity.