Consider the multi-roaster coffee bar: its glory has ebbed and flowed. When this little coffee website launched in 2009, being a multi-roaster was considered way, way out there on the edge of third wave cool. Only a very few coffee bars even tried it. Then for a hot minute there in 2013 it felt like everyone was a multi-roaster; even if you yourself were a roaster, you also carried other companies beans. As a consumer this was kind of a fun vibe to be honest! Although I'm not sure it ever made much business sense.
The pendulum started swinging way way back, and by 2018 or 2019 every 200 square foot coffee bar in America was a Collaborative Co-Ro Pulley Collective nanoroaster with their own bags of Cerro Azul. Forget multi-roaster; everyone was a roaster all of a sudden. Such topsy-turvy times!
Now it's 2021, and perhaps we've regained a state of balance. Multi-roasters that really, really want to be multi-roasters are doing it for love, not chasing trends. Little shops can roast all they want. Things are a lot less binary now, and that's good for everyone. Good for society, even! And good for coffee lovers.
One such dedicated multi-roaster coffee bar is Play Coffee of Fullerton, California. Play showed up as a finalist in the 2020 Sprudgie Awards, and we're excited to explore their program here today on the site. We spoke digitally with Play Coffee owner Leon Wansikehian to learn more.
This story appears as part of our Sprudge Maps Spotlight series. Want your cafe to be considered for a Sprudge Maps Spotlight? All you have to do is register your shop for Sprudge Maps, our user-driven compendium of coffee shops around the globe. And the best part is, it’s completely free! Sign up today!
Introduce yourself to our readers—tell us about your cafe!
Play is a multi-roaster, coffee bar, and destination point in the SoCo District of Downtown Fullerton. My (Leon Wansikehian) journey in coffee began at Kéan Coffee in 2013 while I was simultaneously going to school in town at Cal State Fullerton. It feels surreal to have been able to design and build a specialty coffee bar in the same town I went spent four years for my undergrad in kinesiology (which has no application to coffee whatsoever). Play is a complete ground up development, designed and built with the use of six shipping containers.
What equipment do you use in your shop?
La Marzocco Linea PB, Mahlkönig Peak, and Mahlkönig K30 Twin are on bar for all our espresso needs. We also use the Curtis G4, Marco UC3, and Mahlkönig EK43s for filter service. We designed and built a custom water treatment area in collaboration with Pristine Hydro that's a pretty interesting part of the back bar. The system removes all contaminants and corrosive acids before we properly remineralize the water with a proprietary blend of minerals, which is especially high in magnesium bicarbonate and silica.
Which roaster or roasters do you serve?
We offer coffees from incredible roasters all over the world and like to only buy coffees from roasters that we can feature long term. Currently we carry Morgon, Talormade, Gardelli, Harken, Tim Wendelboe, April, Unity, 3FE, and The Barn.
What is the neighborhood like where you're located? What's some other cool stuff nearby?
Play is located inside the historic SoCo District of Downtown Fullerton, which has a mix of commercial, residential, and even industrial outposts. Within arms reach of Play we have Fullerton’s oldest drinking establishment (originally opened in 1925), taverns, breweries, restaurants, and the 1930 Santa Fe Depot where you can take a train to DTLA is just 28 minutes!
Did you close during a mandated Coronavirus shut-down, and if so, for how long?
On March 14th we hosted a pre-opening party in anticipation for opening and then the wrath of Covid took over. It was difficult to have made our way through two years of challenging construction and then not be able to open because of the pandemic. We finally opened the space in July 2020 and couldn’t be happier to have done so then.
How has Coronavirus impacted daily work at your cafe?
The pandemic has definitely changed our service style and the type of engagements we’ve been able to have. All in all, I am just really proud of our team for making our guests feel as welcome as they have in the midst of the overlooming fears of transmission in the air (literally). Having as much outdoor seating as we have and Los Poblanos hand sanitizer have made us feel a little bit better about a safer service.
What's something cool or unique about your cafe you want folks to know?
Play was a complete ground-up development, designed and built with the use of six shipping containers. When we began digging the old parking lot to prepare our foundation, we found lots of old glass bottles underground. Our neighbors think its remnants from Gem Pharmacy, Fullerton’s first drugstore that became a community outpost on the same Commonwealth Ave. block that Play is today.
Is there a community organization or charity you'd like to shout-out as part of this feature?
As we get more involved in the community, we'd be happy and thrilled to hear about organizations/charities that are doing honest and good work. The two that I have a close connection with and have worked with before is FLY (Freedom Loving Youth) who are helping neglected children facing poverty, abuse, and injustice, and AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union) a nonprofit that helped my father with a $500 grant that he used to immigrate from war stricken Syria in 1982.
Photos courtesy of Play Coffee, used with permission