This is the story of how one Los Angeles bakery created the coffee bar of their dreams.
Walking the stalls of the historic Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles, the aisles are filled with stalls that have been in the market for decades, stretching all the way back to the 1940s. These include butcher shops, Bob’s Coffee and Donuts, Magee’s House of Nuts, and Littlejohn’s English Toffee House, to name just a few. The nostalgia of these original market stalls have been joined more recently by chains like Loteria, Starbucks, and Pinkberry.
In November of 2011, the late Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton’s Short Order took over the Southwest corner of the market, offering up craft cocktails, burgers made with organic pastured meat, and milkshakes concocted with ultra-creamy Strauss ice cream. Short Order also included one of Pressman’s pet projects: a bakery featuring recipes she had developed over her lifetime. In a nod to its connectivity with Short Order, she planned to name the space Short Cake.
In a tragic stroke of fate, Amy Pressman did not live to see the opening of Short Order and Short Cake. But she left the space in good hands, namely those of her bakery protege Hourie Sahakian, who took the reigns to make sure that the bakery of Pressman’s dreams would be a reality. Both Sahakian and Pressman were devout coffee lovers, and in the early planing phases of Short Cake, they hatched a plan to make sure that their coffee program would live up to the level they aimed to achieve with the baked goods. To that end, they enlisted Silverton’s nephew Nik Krankl – a well-known coffee professional who placed second nationally at the 2011 USBC – to plan, design, and open a coffee called Single Origin as an intrinsic part of their Market bakery space.
The end result is something of a dream team: A menu of considered, professional, and delicious coffee drinks from Single Origin, alongside the serious baking skills of Short Cake. Scones come in sesame date, feta scallion, and the ultra fun campfire s’mores variety. Chocolate treats are made with TCHO, including Amy’s family favorite chocolate chip cookies and brownie recipes. Sahakian makes her own seasonal tarts and a stellar orange chiffon cake with meringue. There is granola for breakfast and sandwiches on crispy croissants for lunch, all served along side single origin pour-overs and espresso drinks. Single Origin has also become known for their lattes hot and cold, sweetened with their own salted caramel, vanilla syrup, and chocolate ganache.
The end result is seriously crush-worthy. Single Origin / Short Cake is one of my favorite cafes in Los Angeles, and my Sprudge Editors agree – I think a lot more people would agree, actually, were it not for the unconventional setting. This is a special place, a holistically perfect combination of bakery and espresso bar, housed in a truly unique and bustling urban farmers market. I take out of towners here with the same enthusiasm as I would my own daughter on a quiet afternoon. Being a consumer here is really, truly, a joy.
But there's always more to the story than the consumer's experience. To learn more about Short Cake / Single Origin, I sat down with Hourie Sahakain over some seriously delicious cups of Verve coffee and a bevy of croissants, scones, and cookies (it’s a tough job, I know). This is a ‘no short cuts’ bakery and coffee shop: how do they do it?
How did the concepts for fully realized bakery and coffee bar side by side get developed?
Sahakian: That was the initial vision from the beginning. Amy and I both always really cared about good coffee. Amy’s children cared about coffee. It was in her mind and everyone who got involved at the beginning we knew that part could not be compromised. She knew she needed help so she reached out to Nancy Silverton’s nephew Nik Krankl. Nik and I started working with Amy in the opening and planning of this bakery. We all tasted beans together. Everything from day one was a group effort.
Why do you care about coffee so much? Why does it matter to you that next to all of these pastries to serve high quality coffee?
Sahakian: I wanted it to be at a level that meets everything else in my life. I have always loved coffee. When I met Amy and talked about opening this bakery, she cared just as much about coffee as me. Amy and I used to have our planning meetings for this bakery at Intelligentsia. We were part of the coffee culture there, and now Intelligentsia carries our baked goods at their Venice, Silver Lake, and Pasadena cafes. Amy used to give me Intelligentsia gift cards or buy me a bag of Stumptown beans… we’ve always cared, even before we were operating a coffee program.
When did you decide that Verve would be the coffee you would serve at Single Origin/ Short Cake?
Nik had narrowed it down to a couple of different options. In the end it was a decision between Nik, Amy, and I to go with with Verve.
In term of Verve was it all taste, or also some thought to the fact that there were not many places in LA serving their coffee at the time?
It was the fact that they were based in California, because our other option wasn’t. It went with our whole ethos here of sourcing the best ingredients. It helped that it was from our state, but we also considered taste of course. And also, at the time Verve did not have a strong presence in Southern California – this has changed since 2011.[For more on the coffee program, I turned to its principal architect, Nik Krankl. This interview happened at a later date than my chat with Hourie, as Mr. Krankl is currently hard at work outside LA in the California wine industry. Mr. Krankl shared some insights into his thoughts about the planning of Single Origin alongside Short Cake.]
Why did you choose Verve?
Krankl: I had seen them at competitions both regionally and nationally and tasted their coffee. For me they were a brand that really reflected something that I like, which is they are quality to the highest degree and they are the types of people you would want to go grab a drink with after work. To me they are very likeable people and their personalities came through. They are down to earth guys. They are surfers.
How did you decide what to serve for the Single Origin menu?
I definitely wanted keep it simple. A lot of coffee bars throughout LA and the US at that point were focusing on big rotating coffee menus. So you go into places and they will have their espresso, their guest espresso, and their guest’s guest espresso – they could be pulling coffees eight different ways. In my opinion, when you have a lot of different hands on bar, simplicity is the secret. You can get training across very well, and you can dial in on a brew recipe and execute it with efficiency.
I didn’t want to do twelve different espressos each day at Single Origin. I wanted to go at it with a simple, no-nonsense approach. To me, it shouldn't matter who is on bar or at what time of day you come – the espresso should be on point. One of the things I like about our menu is that the purists can have their pour-over or an espresso, but there is also several very accessible menu that will make sense to people in the market.
Was that the inspirations for the vanilla and caramel lattes on the menu?
I think there is a reason those drinks are popular. There is a reason Starbucks is what it is. There is a reason that a caramel frappuccino is probably one of the highest selling coffee drinks in the world. It is silly to not acknowledge that people like those drinks and have a sweet tooth.
How did those recipes get developed?
I wanted to approach those drinks the same way that maybe you'd walk into one of Julian Cox’s cocktail bars. Maybe a Cosmopolitan is not his favorite drink, but he understands that there can be a demand for a drink like that. So he takes the essence of what people are attracted to and offers it at a gourmet level. He nails the flavor, aroma and mouth feel. I feel the same way with drink like our salted caramel latte. I drink strait shots of espresso and make myself cups of black coffee all the time, and I also like the salted caramel latte.
We make a delicious caramel with our skilled baking team at Short Cake, and a vanilla bean simple syrup using tons of whole vanilla beans. It is insanely expensive to create, but you only have to use a little bit of it to get the flavor. We take the essence of those drinks from Starbucks and make them on a gourmet artisanal level.
And the mocha?
We came into this space with a really unique skill set and mindset, and I got to pair that with what Hourie, Amy, and Nancy were doing. I thought it would be great to make delicious chocolate ganache using the same TCHO chocolate we are baking with. Then we could incorporate it into our coffee menu – the two work together seamlessly. That was so fortunate to have that opportunity. I had owned my own coffee shop in the past. It’s a really hard thing to pull off.
Some of the equipment in the space has been customized. How was that area designed?
The Farmers Market is a very visual place. If we had our own storefront with four walls, you would be able to more properly “walk in” to our Single Origin / Short Cake space. We'd have furniture and artwork on the walls to help tell you who we are, but that can't happen where we are – in the Farmers Market there are so many stands, and so much stimulation happening around you. You can get lost as a consumer, so I wanted to make our space a little extra special to stand out. To get someone to walk over and take some time out of their Farmers Market trip to come see us.
So my philosophy was to put our pour-over bar out front and do it in a way that looks a little laboratory-ish, putting the glass in front so people can watch. Our Espresso Parts custom powder-coated La Marzocco Strada has clear sides. We needed to give people some eye candy in an environment where there was so much eye candy already. It was partly to distinguish us and to captivate someone, for even a moment.
More recently, Single Origin and Short Cake have added Handsome Coffee to their menu alongside Verve. I asked Michael Phillips about his thoughts on working with Short Cake and Single Origin, and it turns out he's every bit as lovey-dovey about the place as I. “From the beginning they were a crush for us. We wanted to be part of it,” said Phillips. “The product they make is awesome. Everything is delicious. The foundation was set for their coffee program even having the name Single Origin.”
Single Origin / Short Cake are open daily at 8am in stall #316 of the world famous Original Farmers Market, at the corner of 3rd and Fairfax. Come and visit the next time you're in town, and there's a a good chance you'll see me there, swooning.