Los Angeles is arguably home to the most exciting coffee scene in the world. We've been saying it since at least 2012, but it's never been a more winnable argument, with allowances made for Tokyo and Seoul in terms of sheer growth and quality, or maybe the Melbourne-Sydney one-two punch in terms of innovation and influence. No matter what, LA continues to be the city we're publishing the most about here at Sprudge, in wide-ranging coverage that stretches from the buzzy byways of Echo Park and Silver Lake to the chill side streets of Los Feliz, to the urban canyons of Downtown LA and the Art District, along the beachfront in Venice and Santa Monica and out to every last nook and cranny in the Valley (not that most Angelenos would admit to going there, but we think the new stuff in spots like Sherman Oaks and Burbank is cool asf).
There amongst it all, with a Zelig-like propensity to find himself at the center of the scene stands Tyler Wells, a coffee consultant and entrepreneur non pareil in the city's ongoing coffee boom. Sprudge readers know Wells from his work as a co-founder at the influential Handsome Coffee Roasters (may it rest in peace), projects like Blacktop Coffee and Superba Food and Bread, plus consulting work behind the scenes—none bigger than his ongoing work to help plan La Colombe Coffee Roasters‘ coming Los Angeles expansion.
Today comes the news that Wells has opened his own coffee bar in the city's Financial District—a new, jaw-dropping courtyard bar designed by the internationally renowned firm Gensler Architecture and dubbed, simply, Nice. Located in the City National Plaza at 555 S. Flower Street, the cafe has been built with four modular walls that lift up to allow in the that glorious California sunshine (available year-round, at no additional charge), plus plaza patio seating and stunning rolled steel accents throughout.
The space is not yet open to the public—Wells & coffee program manager Nick Howell hosted a friends & family preview today—but we already see Nice as a new coffee design icon for a city with no shortage of them. Somewhere in the middle of accepting last minute deliveries and managing the aforementioned preview, Tyler Wells found time to speak with Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman by phone from Los Angeles about his Nice new cafe, the state of coffee in Los Angeles, and that coming La Colombe expansion (wheels go up in May).
Hey Tyler—thanks for making time to chat with me, I know this is a really busy morning for you. Start by giving our readers the “elevator pitch” for your new shop—what's the deal?
Hey of course—I always have time for Sprudge.
I've been working on this space for the last 3 years, in development with Gensler Architecture and Commonwealth Partners who own this plaza. There’s 2 buildings here, each with 51 stories, and then a smaller jewel box building that’s 2-3 stories with their headquarters. Gensler wanted to “activate” the plaza—[laughs] sorry, you know, redact that, I don’t want to say “activate”—but we worked on a space together that would feed back into the aesthetic and invite people in. There’s 12 thousand people that come across this plaza every day and we wanted to bring all this good service and coffee to where they are.
I have big notion of not asking people to opt in to the thing you do, but instead creating it and bringing to them and saying, “Hey, let us provide you with this cool thing and meet you where you are.”
Our readers know you from your work with Handsome Coffee Roasters a few years ago, but also on projects like Blacktop and Superba Food & Bread, where you worked as a consultant. Is this a consultant project for you or is it your own cafe?
This cafe is 100% mine. I don’t have any investors. It's my own project.
How do you approach a project that's yours, as opposed to your consulting work?
It’s great to have a wide point of view. In consulting I like to offer expertise, and give my own point of view to the client, and help them realize it, and I like doing that—but my vision has evolved really over the last 5 years since we opened Handsome here in LA. And so now with my own project, it’s great to just take all of those lessons and experiences and bring ‘em to life.
What’s the gear situation at this new cafe? Talk nerdy to me.
We have a La Marzocco Strada 3 group auto-volumetric espresso machine, and it's really beautiful. The whole cafe features all this beautiful custom stainless and hot rolled steel work, done for us by these hot rod dudes called AIS Industires—they remade every panel, redid the drip trays out of black iron hot rolled steel. The whole thing is rat rodded, and it’s gorgeous.
We use Robur grinders, and in an idea that's straight out of Single Origin in Sydney, we hung these beautiful cup holders from the ceiling—it’s funny what you geek out on, but that’s my favorite touch throughout the whole thing. We've got batch brew on a Curtis brewer, there's a [Mahlkonig] EK-43 grinder as well, some nitro cold brew taps, and we’ll do some various bubbly teas on tap, plus chai, Valrhona Chocolate mochas, vanilla lattes…let's be real, who doesn't love a vanilla latte.
So no hand poured coffee?
It's all batch brew—I’m a fan of good batch brew. I’m consistently delighted by it, and we'll keep it fresh and rotate it. God willing and the creek don’t rise, this will be a very busy little coffee bar, and so I’m concerned about maintaining speed and quality of service.
How big is the space?
Just 320 square feet.
What are you doing for food?
Doughnuts from a company called Hot Fat Doughnuts, which I also own, that’s my new company — we’re doing a little of both, done in a kind of same style for coffee, good ass doughnuts done well, no fuss but great ingredients.
What’s up with the name?
“Nice” was a working title for my consulting business and it evolved into the name for this cafe. You know, something like “Handsome”—that was a brand, it was a thing, it had some substance—but I’m not trying to create it again. I’m interested in something with some timelessness and staying power. It’s not a production, and I want to make it about the guests and the people who come and experience this. I didn’t want to go huge on the brand or be too clever or kitschy. It is what it is—a nice little place to get coffee.
Describe the neighborhood for people who aren't familiar with Los Angeles.
I had dinner down here in the Financial District the other night, and just to walk outside and look what I’m looking at, we’re between two separate 51 story towers — you feel like you’re in Tokyo or something, like a completely different city from the rest of LA. It’s urban and bustling and really clean, and it’s a lovely experience. It’s new and fresh to me. We’re right across the street from the main library, which is a gorgeous building, and the downtown Standard Hotel location is 100 feet away.
What roaster are you serving?
We're serving 49th Parallel—I just like ‘em man, I’ve not had a cup of 49th Parallel that has not delighted me. It’s user friendly and it’s a coffee that no one doesn’t like.
It seems it's rare right now for cafes in Los Angeles to serve coffee roasted in Los Angeles. Why not serve an LA-roasted coffee?
What is LA-roasted coffee?
Well—it’s coffee that has been roasted in and around the Los Angeles area, right?
Right, of course—but right now, I don’t think we have a hometown roaster that meets my criteria. I’ll be honest with you—damn you coffee media—I don't want to offend anyone, and this could easily just be a matter of ignorance on my part, but that's how I feel. If any LA roasters read this and want to bring coffee by to try, I would love to support the home town. I know Deaton [Pigot, of Take Flight Coffee] is roasting some great coffee in town and I’ll give him props, but I just developed a loyalty to 49th Parallel and it seemed like such a killer fit for this project immediately. I’ve been working on this thing for damn near 3 years.
I always like to ask people with new products or projects: who is this for?
My new cafe is for the 20,000 people who work near us. We’re at the bottom of a vertical neighborhood—this is a neighborhood joint for people who didn’t have a neighborhood joint. Customers here will be 97% captive audience, people who live and work nearby. I can see 700 floors of office form where I stand.
Will you open more cafes in the future under the “Nice” brand?
I won’t say no but I don't have plans to open more at this time.
Back on the consulting tip, we know you've been working with La Colombe to help them develop their upcoming LA expansion. When will La Colombe's new Sunset Boulevard cafe open?
Can you quote me as like an “unknown source” here?
Actually you know what, you can quote me, I don’t care. I’m a huge fan of La Colombe and I'm very proud of what we do. La Colombe's Beverly Hills and Century City cafes are set to open at the end of May, and the Silver Lake cafe [in the former Casbah Cafe space] will open in late fall of this year. And then in Santa Monica next year.
So you're staffing for those cafes now?
Yup, there's staffing going on now.
And La Colombe will be roasting as well?
There's a roasting works in Frogtown under construction as we speak.
Tyler, I always learn something new when we talk. Thanks for speaking with Sprudge and congratulations on the new spot.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network.
Photos by Skandia Shafer, courtesy of Diana Bianchini at Di Moda Public Relations.