There are many variations on the coffee-serving establishment: the seated patio cafe, the grab-and-go coffee counter, the full-blown restaurant with coffee, or even the cafe drive-through. For most, the differences are hardly given conscious attention, but for the duo behind G&B Coffee in Los Angeles, it’s what designing a novel coffee experience is all about.
To wit: the recently redesigned G&B in Downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market is a fresh take on the coffee bar format, resembling something far more familiar from the cocktail world. With four sides of counters around an island of minimalistic gadgetry, the bar serves customers from anywhere along the perimeter. The effect is a 360° service model that fosters intimacy and familiarity among patrons, while facilitating efficient, high-quality service from the staff.
If this sounds easy to come up with and pull off, well, maybe you're the person to give them a run for their money, but you better get started now. For the two proprietors, Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, this is a revamp years in the making, and represents the next step for the duo's evolving (and closely followed) New California coffee service style. The G and B behind G&B were kind enough to sit down for a chat about their new shop, and provide some insight on how the new space came to be.
After two years of operating behind a small street-facing counter, Babinski and Glanville are taking their leap while everything around them continues to change. In the time since the first G&B took roots, Grand Central Market has grown from a burgeoning collection of old and new vendors to an absolutely exploding hotspot for quick-bite restaurants from top-name chefs. Wexler’s Deli, DTLA Cheese, Horse Thief BBQ, and Olio Pizzeria are only a few of the restaurants that have opened since G&B first arrived. Glanville and Babinski appreciate the community in the market whose constituents include other vendors, tourists, and the regular patrons from the dense offices near by. Asked which of their neighboring eateries they would choose for their last meal, Sticky Rice and Wexler’s Deli topped the list (perhaps because no matter what time you're reading this, it's a baffling 45-minute wait at the otherwise-delicious Eggslut).
The newly redesigned G&B originated from Ricki Kline, designer of LA bars including Seven Grand and Honeycut. “We were pretty bad about running our mouths about our plans to open a new space,” says Glanville. “Ricki, one of our regulars, had heard it enough times and was like: ‘You know I design bars for a living?’ I was like okay buddy tell me a bar you’ve designed and he’s like ‘The Varnish’ and we’re like, oh shit!” After working with Kline, a design went out to bid, and was returned with offers of around three times what they could budget for. Confronted with a choice to either cut back or look for investors, a few more G&B regulars stepped in to fund the remaining construction budget. Apparently, it pays to keep happy customers coming back, and listening in.
Commenting on the 360 design, Charles Babinski says “there’s no particular customer flow; the burden of flow is on us. We’re just available to take care of people; there are not specific places where we herd people to order and pick up drinks.” The bar staff operates “like a zone defense in basketball,” says Glanville. Take a seat anywhere and within a few seconds a smiling team member is taking your order and walking you through the diverse but streamlined menu.
One concept the duo really prioritized was removing as much of the food and drink prep from the bar as possible in order to maximize efficacy. Surprisingly, the majority of preparation, including homemade teas and pastries, has been extradited to a tiny room on the basement floor of the market. Food items that require immediacy, like the yeasted waffles or toast options, can be prepped in under three minutes.
There are no pour-over coffees on offer at G&B, but rather, a meticulously controlled FETCO batch brewer for filter coffee. Espresso orders still utilize the same three-group La Marzocco Linea PB, a workhorse that's been in service since the shop first opened. To keep up with volume, the lead barista is often seen pulling three simultaneous shots while prepping the next round in advance. One lead “Bar Boss” oversees several drink makers and customer service positions in the G&B zone defense scheme. As Babinski notes, “operating this way takes a bit more staff to run the shop but the number of customers we can serve in a timely manner…well, we haven’t found the ceiling yet.”
Their coffee program constantly rotates selections from 49th Parallel to Ritual, George Howell, and Heart, to name a few favorites. House-made signature drinks are increasingly popular, including a milk tea made with Okinawa sweet potato and coconut and a stand-out “Phoenix Grapefruit Sparkling Tea” that's become something of a must-order, for regulars and newbies alike. The bustle of the market, and the duo's own rising profile, means there's more and more new customers dropping by for the G&B experience each day. Many of these—heck, the vast majority—probably have no idea that, for example, both Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski are United States Barista Champions, or that Glanville opened all three Intelligentsias across the city, back when this town was pretty much a coffee dead zone. The relative anonymity and regular influx of new patrons seems to suit the duo just fine.
Glanville and Babinski both told me that this revamped G&B Coffee at Grand Central Market is the best opening of their respective careers. Going further, they remarked that this is exactly the bar they had envisioned since their first tour of Grand Central Market, now close to three years ago. For coffee nerds, watching G&B up the ante yet again creates a sort of breathlessness; after all, this cafe was already one of the best in the country, already breathing rare air. But it's the newcomers and the unconverted who are best served by the revamp at G&B, as the location becomes even more welcoming, accessible, and able to facilitate delicious drinks with dexterity and grace.
So go ahead and take a seat anywhere at the bar. With staff taking orders and knocking out drinks like Giannis Antetokounmpo turning around a rebound for a layup, you'll get served before you know it.
Mackenzie Champlin is a Sprudge contributor based in Los Angeles. Read more Mackenzie Champlin on Sprudge.