The recent opening of Dinosaur Coffee in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood proves that when it comes to coffee bar design, we certainly have not seen everything. Owners Michelle and Ben Hantoot invested a lot of time, energy, and money into ensuring that their new dinosaur inspired café would be a neighborhood gathering spot that is both gorgeous and comfortable. Now open for just over one month, the shop bustles with locals, regulars, and curious coffee folk.
The Hantoots are both partners in the shop and a married couple. They met as students at Brown University, where Michelle was studying biology and Ben studied linguistics. She went on to work in the restaurant industry and he initially pursued a career in advertising and as a creative director. Moving out to Los Angeles brought the Hantoots new opportunities, with Michelle Hantoot working with Gary Chau at Caffe Luxxe as Ben and a group of friends launched the entertaining and profane Cards Against Humanity game. With a year of design, planning, and construction finally behind them now that the doors are open at Dinosaur Coffee, Michelle Hantoot runs the café and Ben Hantoot takes care of the branding and design needs as well as running manufacturing and design for Cards Against Humanity, all from a stool at the counter in his new coffee-bar office.
While sipping cappuccinos, the Hantoots shared with Sprudge the story of their journey to open Dinosaur Coffee and their thinking behind the prehistoric name. “We spent a long time trying to come up with a name that felt right. We wanted something that seemed kind of playful, not too serious, short, and memorable,” explained Ben Hantoot.
Dinosaur Coffee is located in the Solutions Audio Video Service Center building, famous for being home to the Elliot Smith Memorial wall. The rectangular space has been meticulously transformed by Ryan Upton of MASS Architecture and Design, adding all new electrical and plumbing while retaining the original concrete floor and beamed ceiling. Inspired by the name of the café, Upton hung from the ceiling a modern interpretation of a Jurassic skeleton resembling the Stegosaurus in the Dinosaur Coffee logo.
For bar flow, Michelle Hantoot spent a month obsessing on the topic with Michael Kretovics and Justin Holt of The L.A. Brew Techs. This flow design was shared with Upton to agree on the final plans. The curved bar in the middle of the space is clad in scale-shaped tiles and the ceiling has been transformed by a series of curved plywood skeletal forms rigged from the top. Curved plywood shelves stretch along the longest expanses of the walls to display ceramics, creating an organic, warm, and inviting environment.
Unfortunately for those that thought Dinosaur Coffee would look like the set of Jurassic Park, there are no bloodthirsty jungle monsters in site. The nod to a dinosaur habitat can be found in the back of the shop with lush green plants framing a sign that reads “Things will be fine” in pink cursive neon. With light walls and blond woods, their bright red La Marzocco FB80 espresso machine offers a pop of color. Dinosaur exclusively serves Four Barrel coffee. During construction Michelle Hantoot spent a lot of time with Christopher “Nicely” Abel Alameda at Menotti’s, another well-known shop across town that also serves Four Barrel. “Nicely was so kind to us too during the construction process. He let me hang out there any day I wanted. He was a good friend to have, especially when this was being built.
The ceramics were handmade for Dinosaur Coffee by Nobu Nishigawara, a professor at Cal State Fullerton. The Hantoots discovered the cups at Tortoise General Store in Venice and chose to serve their brewed coffee and espresso drinks in the ten, six, and three ounce sizes. Michelle Hantoot said that she loves the ceramics for their quality, comfort in the hand, and ability to hold heat. On the menu are espresso drinks and French press coffee with pastries from Farm Shop, with the granola and chocolate syrup being made by Sarah Bearclaw. Dinosaur Coffee also plans to host a guest-baking program to showcase pastries by Bearclaw and other bakers. That's not the only kinds of guests they're planning to have: in February the Chicago comedy group the Nerdologues will perform in house after a show at UCB, and Dinosaur coffee will soon begin booking creative workshops and other events.
It's clear that from top to bottom, the Hantoots have poured a lot of thought, time and heart into Dinosaur Coffee. Judging by the reception so far, it seems like that work is paying off. We can't wait to see what prey they stalk next.
Julie Wolfson is a Sprudge.com desk writer based in Los Angeles. Read more Julie Wolfson on Sprudge.