In 2007, Colby Barr and Ryan O'Donovan opened Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz, California. Nearly 7 years later, I'm sitting with them in them the offices of Studio MAI, the design firm who will be creating the first permanent Los Angeles cafe for our friends and partners at Verve. This cafe will be located at 833 S. Spring Street in the heart of the Fashion District, with opening slated for summer 2014.
Barr and O'Donovan said that at Verve, there's a deeply felt commitment to creating genuine spaces, and crafting cafes that respond to their neighborhoods. They've now committed to three spaces in LA in order to do just that, with Spring Street due up first.
For the beautiful, sparse space at Spring Street (currently used as a staging ground for Studio MAI's furniture production), they are going for an “urban concept store.” For their Los Angeles roastery – coming to the LA Arts District in 2015 – roasting will be just one component of the space, which will also include on-site training. They'll be working with select partners in the Los Angeles area to round out the experience at this project, with more details to come.
The third new Verve space will be in West Hollywood. Slated for “fall 2014”, Barr and O'Donovan were coy with details, saying only that a free-standing building will bring the “full Verve retail experience” to WeHo. In the meantime, if you want to experience Verve for yourself right now, do so at the brand's elegant, airy pop-up downtown in the palatial courtyard of the Vibiana event space, part of the Sprout Restaurant Group.
Santa Cruz and Los Angeles aren't as far away as they might seem. Barr and O'Donovan were positive about expanding their operations down the coast to LA, a city with an “old bohemian beach community roots” and diverse neighborhood identities. As for how LA has responded to them, they said that so far the welcome has been quite enthusiastic, especially from the food community.
Verve's big introduction to LA came in 2012 with the opening of Short Cake (covered by Julie Wolfson here on Sprudge), another project from Sprout Restaurant Group owner Bill Chait. Mr. Chait has been involved in an extensive roster of chef-driven restaurants throughout LA, like the newly opened République, which serves Verve coffee on La Brea in Hancock Park. According to Barr and O'Donovan, Verve has found a particularly good reception at boutique restaurants in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and they see a lot of opportunity in SoCal. The aforementioned Downtown Arts District roastery will include a food component, to be announced at a later date.
The three stores planned for the LA expansion of Verve will double their number of retail cafes. When I asked if they were worried about growing pains, Mssrs. Barr and O'Donovan were ebullient – or stoked, in the Santa Cruz parlance – that expansion had created new opportunities for their employees. There was apparently a great deal of interest internally when the LA option was given to staff.
They've also made some key hires, including Devin Chapman, a barista competition veteran formerly of Coava Coffee in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Barr emphasized that in approaching bringing on new people, the most important thing was that the new hire “need to want to work with us, to jump into our culture.” While they wait on the beginning of construction, Chapman and other staff are running the coffee in the cathedral courtyard at Vibiana and helping revamp the coffee program at Short Cake, as part of larger changes coming after lead baker Hourie Sahakian left for La Brea Bakery.
Studio MAI, designers of the hugely popular restaurant Gjelina, will be taking the lead on developing the cafe's Spring Street space and creating all custom furniture. The cafe will also have a cold-pressed juice component in collaboration with Juice Served Here. Details are still being finalized, but Juice Served Here's bottles will be on sale alongside some blended drink options (the “raw latte“, made with Verve cold brew and hazelnut or coconut milk, is very popular at the existing Juice Served Here locations).
This is, it almost goes without saying, a very exciting time to be a coffee lover in Los Angeles. Verve is one of many respected roasters with LA expansion plans, but with the recent opening of Stumptown's roastery, and the impending arrival of Blue Bottle, these plans are finally coming to fruition. Angelenos can now look around to discover they're living in one of the most vibrant coffee cultures in the world. It's dizzying just to keep up.