It’s been just a full year since the closure of Handsome Coffee Roasters, a landmark Los Angeles specialty coffee company that burned brightly before eventually burning out. Its founders—Mike Phillips, Chris Owens, and Tyler Wells—continue to make an impact across the Los Angeles coffee scene, but especially Mr. Wells, whose post-Handsome career has seen him reinvented as an in-demand consultant for several successful LA coffee projects, including Blacktop Coffee at Alchemy Works in the Arts District, the excellent Superba Food + Bread in Venice, and now a new space: Civil Coffee in Highland Park.
Civil Coffee is the work of brothers Alex & Alan Morales, themselves former Handsome alumni. The brothers Morales departed Handsome in 2012 to open Civil Coffee, which has existed for the last several years as a successful Los Angeles coffee cart, catering to high-end brand events and festivals such as Desert Daze and Coachella. Success begets success, and now the brothers are ready—with a little consulting help from Tyler Wells—to embark on a promising new brick and mortar incarnation of Civil Coffee. We spoke with Alex Morales to learn more.
As told to Sprudge by Alex Morales.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
We founded Civil Coffee Los Angeles in late 2012. With skills handed down by our father, we welded and designed a custom espresso cart for mobile service. With a tank full of enthusiasm, we hit the streets, serving Angelenos at events all across town. Three years later, we are opening up our first brick and mortar. Located in Highland Park, we foresee Civil Coffee continuing to grow within an eclectic and exciting community.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
Our space is at 5629 N. Figueroa, Highland Park, an historic neighborhood of Los Angeles. Our unit is part of a building constructed in the 1920’s with multiple store fronts and is designated as a Historical Preservation Overlay Zone. In its heyday, it used to be very successful dress shop; in fact, the building still has a large neon sign that reads “dress shop” that will be restored. Now the 1500-sq.-ft. space will become the flagship store of Civil. It is about 23 feet across and 66 deep with ceilings and 17ft high. We fell in love with the openness of it immediately when we stumbled across it while hanging out in the neighborhood.
Two large store front window displays angle in leading to a large door in the middle making for a welcoming entry way; we immediately thought, “Bar window seating here.” It is a very special space and difficult to find one of this size and style in Los Angeles. The space speaks coffee bar! It was a completely empty space so we knew it would need a build out from ground up and going to take some work, but we could not let this opportunity pass and we jumped on it. We can’t wait to reveal the finished product once its done!
What’s your approach to coffee?
We strive to make coffee approachable and simple. For example, from a barista training standpoint, in our espresso program we like to pull shots that are short, syrupy in body, sweet, balanced and smooth, so we work on a collective palate and a methodical but straightforward approach to dialing in. Baristas are trained to taste objectively, not to determine extraction through senses; that’s actually where the refractometer comes in. They ask themselves, “is this sweet or sour? Is the finish smooth, clean or harsh and ashy?” Then adjust parameters accordingly.
We shoot to do the same with our patron’s coffee experience. For example, our menu features espresso and milk drinks in ounce units, ranging from 4oz. to 12 oz. sizes. This is something that we really appreciated coming from Handsome; the definition of a drink is not muddled but straightforward: espresso + milk. Although not very common in menus, we’ve seen this to be approachable in our mobile and integrated retail experiences with very positive results.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We’ll be going with La Marzocco and Mazzer for our exclusive Coava Coffee single-origin espresso program. A FETCO batch brewer and Mahlkonig EK-43 grinder will be used for drip, which will feature Coava and Heart at launch. To pair with this fine equipment, we’ll be using a refractometer for quality assurance and beverage sciences.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
We are shooting for mid-summer.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Charisse Cardenas, a Highland Park resident, is our interior designer extraordinaire! Steve Melkonian, head of JMI Inc., is coordinating the construction endeavor with his hard-working crew. Jessica Booth is the wiz behind Civil Coffee’s branding. And our buddy Tyler Wells is our trusted advisor.
Photos by David Maziarz.
There’s many more Build-Outs to explore in our BOOS archive!