Our friends and partners at Verve Coffee Roasters, the plucky Santa Cruz roaster and 2012 Sprudgie Award winner, opened the doors of its first brick-and-mortar Los Angeles location today. The space is located on the ground floor of the Primrose Design Building at 833 S. Spring St., two blocks from the Ace Hotel, and is shared equally with LA juicer Juice Served Here. 833 Spring is also the home of architecture firm Studio MAI, which teamed up with Verve and Juice Served Here to design the space. It additionally includes offices for Alternative Apparel, operating under the oversight of entrepreneur Greg Alterman, who co-founded Juice Served Here with partner Alex Matthews.
I toured the space in advance of its soft open this weekend, and spoke more about the project with Verve co-founders Colby Barr and Ryan O'Donovan, along with Verve CEO Chris Jordan, formerly of Dormans Coffee, Technoserve, and Starbucks. They were joined by Juice Served Here's Matthews & Alterman.
The resulting cafe feels utterly Californian, and at the same time big-city and urban. It is exactly the sort of space you'd expect to find in Downtown Los Angeles; one could be blindfolded, spun around three times, dropped there with no knowledge of place, and be reasonably expected to determine its whereabouts. Floor-to-ceiling panels of glass separate the cafe and juice space from Studio MAI.
The space is bright and open, with blonde myrtlewood inside and and South American ipe woods outside, exposed concrete (we're talking big 1940s cinder blocks), and braided denim. Nary an Edison bulb can be found, but rather big opaque modern white light fixtures and black midcentury lamps. The floor of the cafe was inspired by Vox amplifier grills, and nods to the Verve team's musical affinities. There are potted plants throughout. The service and coffee production bar is composed of reflective mirrors, with more blonde wood on top. Light and warmth seem to bounce off the walls and around the room.
All in all the cafe seats around fifty, split between inside and outdoors.
On the gear side, it's an onslaught, a glorious modern onslaught of coffee-making equipment. Two Mahlkönig EK43 grinders, “quick coffee” served off of a brand new Wilbur Curtis Thermopro Twin batch-brewer, a giant Fetco HWB10 water tower for tea service, 3 Nuova Simonelli Climapro grinders, cocktail-bar-level ice from a Kold Draft ice machine, two Modbar pour-over modules for Kalita Wave coffee by the cup, Acaia scales, POS by Revel, Reg Barber tampers, and the crown jewel: a custom Kees van der Westen four-group Spirit espresso machine.
The Spirit was built bespoke for Verve by van der Westen himself in Holland, and features unfinished metal, brass, and analog toggle switches that can change between two different programmable volumetric dosing settings. It boasts three steam wands, and is very aesthetically beautiful, frankly. Espressos from the Spirit are served up on notNeutral custom wood serving trays. Guests can expect multiple coffee offerings each day, including Verve's anchor Street Level espresso, selections from Verve's Reserve program, and a shifting variety of single origin coffees sourced in part by Verve co-founder Colby Barr, who still manages the growing company's green coffee portfolio.
Devin Chapman, a seasoned barista competitor with a Portland pedigree, has been closely involved with the development of Verve's inaugural Los Angeles cafe, managing the space at 833 while training for competition at the upcoming United States Barista Championship. “We'll be developing specialty drinks with juices,” Chapman told me, “and my signature drink will be on the menu after USBC.”
Ah yes, the juice. Juice Served Here's glass-bottled array of curated fruit squeezes already occupies four of its own juice bars across the city, but founders Alterman and Matthews will be on hand to help interpret the selection this coming weekend.
I asked Barr to explain the relationship between Juice Served Here and Verve at 833 S. Spring. “It's a collaborative store,” he told me, echoing Matthews. “It's not two stores in one, it's not a pop-up, it's not a divided space. We wanted this to be a cohesive space. It's kind of a concept store–it's coffee and juice, which are, like, best friends. We've been working with Juice Served Here before they opened. They started using our cold brew concentrate to go with their raw juices. Since then we've been talking to them about partnering with them on juice. We felt like it was a better customer experience to have one place that featured Verve Coffee and Juice Served Here.”
There's a food partnership in play here as well. When it comes to collaborating with local LA businesses, Jordan says, “We just want to hang out with people we like, and it's great that people we like are doing awesome stuff,” adding, “it starts with a friendship.” Friends like Ivan Marquez, formerly of the French Laundry and and Per Se. Now at Shortcake, Marquez has developed a custom food menu for Verve and Juice Served Here.
“We spent months developing this menu,” Jordan says. His favorite menu item? “For me there was one that's really personal. I lived in Switzerland for 6 years, and there was this great outdoor farmers market. A stall served a simple salami sandwich: butter, salami on a baguette. For us, we want to offer a good product served in a thoughtful way.” Another one of Jordan's favorites is the vegan chocolate cookie made with avocado. “It's really a beautiful pastry. We'll switch up the menu, depending on what's in season, and continue to work with Ivan to develop seasonal options.”
The custom menu by Shortcake will be supplemented by salads, teriyaki almonds, and coconut baked kale chips from Cafe Gratitude.
For their part, this move is a long time coming for Verve. We initially reported on Verve's LA expansion plans all the way back in August 2012, and even then it had been developing previously. “The concept had come up early on,” Barr tells me, “way early on, with the first ‘what if' conversations. Do you go across the country or do you down the coast? Ryan brought up the idea of the coast. After we first came down here, visiting some of our [wholesale] accounts, we got sucked into all the developments, the food scene that was happening, all the things happening behind closed doors.”
Yes, you read the above correctly: Verve will open several more Los Angeles locations in 2015, including a roastery and retail hub in the Arts District and cafes in West Hollywood (at 8925 Melrose), Midtown, and Highland Park. For now the next focus will be on the Melrose cafe. Jordan remarked of the space, “This is what Verve real estate looks like in Los Angeles.” It'll boast 1,000 square feet of outdoor space, with another 1,600 square feet inside.
The reinvention (or perhaps, rediscovery) of coffee as a gateway to the good life is well underway, and co-branding efforts are riotously en vogue right now, from Portland to Amsterdam, Manhattan to Tokyo. But here, in downtown Los Angeles, a new bar has been set in the arms race for tasteful cafe curation. Baristas are clad in Hedley & Bennett Verve custom aprons, designed and stitched just a few blocks away and made of Japanese 7oz selvedge denim. The cafe will sell magazines like Monocle, Kinfolk, Darling, The Surfer's Journal, and Stay Wild. Also on offer are leather products and jewelry from Clark & Madison, body care products from Aesop, blank journals from Public Supply, custom ceramic mugs from Kat & Roger, and espresso service vessels from notNeutral. It is a dazzling, dizzying fantasia of *it* brands.
You drink good coffee, or drink great juice, or order a milkshake that combines the two together, and the whole experience is bathed in California sunlight. From the gear to the vibe to the gleeful joy this venture takes in cultural cross-pollination, this is 2015's first major cafe opening, in North America or anywhere else. If you are yourself planning on building out a curated lifestyle cross-branded cafe experience anytime in the near future, consider this shots fired.
Zachary Carlsen is Sprudge.com's co-founder. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.
Jordan Michelman contributed to this reporting.