Walk through LA’s Highland Park nowadays and you’ll see a wave of new coffee shops and restaurants. Most sit on York Boulevard or Figueroa Street, main drags where you’ll find a diverse mix of old and new businesses. But sometimes you want to relax somewhere more off the beaten path. This is where you’ll find organic restaurant Amara Kitchen, tucked away on a quieter, mostly residential street, and inside Amara Kitchen, a temporary new outpost for the cafe/roaster Bar Nine.
Bar Nine owner Zayde Naquib met the Amara team as both were starting their businesses early in 2014. Naquib says that Amara Kitchen was one of the first places to serve Bar Nine’s roasts before it even opened as a shop. When Amara completed some renovations this year, creating a more spacious restaurant, Naquib saw an opportunity to join in. He says that along with the expansion, Amara “had been wanting to elevate their coffee service. We realized very organically through conversation we could do a joint pop-up—Amara doing brunch in our cafe and us bringing our coffee service to theirs. It’s a really cool partnership between two like-minded businesses.”
A welcoming location for work, meetings, or just for enjoying good coffee and food, Amara Kitchen is more intimate than Bar Nine’s cafe in Culver City, according to Naquib. “It’s got such a great neighborhood-cafe feel, but one that’s elevated and interesting. Our bar in Culver very much feels [like you’re] on the floor of the roasting works, especially as we’ve gotten busier with production.”
Naquib likens the thorough yet tightly fitted bar setup to jidoka—a Japanese concept that translates as “automation with a human touch.”
“I really want to see if we can rethink the role of the barista in the coffee bar,” he says, “have them focus on monitoring production, and focusing our training in the way you’d develop skills as a sommelier, with a little less on the technical side of making coffee.” One interesting way he does this is by removing the need for grinding beans for the Marco Jet batch brew by using what he says are “nitrogen-flushed packets of ground coffee that we dial in at our headquarters in Culver City. If a coffee tastes best four days off roast, that’s the taste we’re preserving with our packets, which we refresh weekly.” Without a batch-brew grinder on the premises, the pop-up has room for both a La Marzocco Linea PB and a La Marzocco Vulcano Swift grinder.
The menu here is simple—espresso, drip, and an iced coffee that Naquib mentions is a “hot-over-ice brew.” For a milk alternative, Bar Nine has access to Amara Kitchen’s house-made cashew-almond milk. On my visit, I met with Evan Damkoehler, Bar Nine’s director of education, who made me a delicious latte with Amara’s nut-hybrid milk, praising its texture and solid steaming quality.
Another alternative—and admirable—move is in the takeaway cups. “The glass takeaway cups are a big hit,” says Damkoehler. The screw-top containers are reusable, attractive, and practical, the kind of thing we’ll see more of as coffee continues to embrace sustainable goods.
For now, Naquib says the pop-up will run for six months, with the possibility of it turning into a permanent “satellite location.” It’s a bit of an experiment for Naquib, who hopes to expand the jidoka concept through his wholesale partners. “Imagine tasting the exact same extractions all over Los Angeles in cafes, restaurants, and more,” he says. “I think we can achieve a level of consistency that can currently only be found in the Starbucks and Peet’s of the world, but with some of the best coffees produced seasonally and developed to their optimal potential. If our partners can focus on what makes them special, and we can deliver the coffee quality, I think we can help create some really amazing guest experiences. The pop-up is in many ways the proof of concept of this idea.”
Bar Nine is an advertising partner with Sprudge Media Network.