Talking over Coffee

AIGA LA sat down with some of the panelists for our DESIGN + COFFEE event happening on May 26th, 2016 to dig a little deeper into what they love about the LA coffee scene, how it has impacted them and much more.

 1.) How has LA affected your career?

TONY KONECNY: Los Angeles didn’t yet have much of a coffee culture when I landed to do the first Intelligentsia coffee bar, so it is was a bit of a blank slate. But more than that, the culture here was very open to new ideas. We could do something that was really genre-bending and high concept without the feeling of putting on airs or pushing people too far beyond their comfort zone. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to make a mark here, which opened a number of very interesting doors.

As an ex-New Yorker, it was an adjustment. The pace and tempo here is unique. The Angeleno hustle is its own weird thing. Work comes in bursts. You can have a lot of very different things going on as a creative person, be busy as hell in some moments, but you don’t need to wear it on your sleeve everyday. There isn’t the feeling that you’re being constantly sized-up to the same degree as in cities like San Francsico or New York. Creatives here are a bit less tethered. It’s liberating.

MIKE PHILLIPS: Much of my initial career in coffee was actually cemented in the cold winters of Chicago while I worked for Intelligentsia.  It was there that I built my core coffee skills and worked my way through the barista competition world.  LA came after and has been an inspirational city that represented that next stage for me.  When I was at Intelligentsia, it was moving to LA that more or less changed the direction of the company.  They were able to launch a cafe that served smaller drinks, all cups brewed to order and put a much higher emphasis on cafe design.  When we wanted to launch Handsome, we knew that LA was fertile ground for an adventurous concept that would likely be too edgy for other cities.  Seeing how well LA responded to Intelligentsia pushing the envelop, we knew it would be the best spot for us to make a run.  It worked incredibly well allowing us both access to investors, perfect real estate option for our needs and an audience that wanted people offering a vision of work they could stand behind.  LA affected my career by inspiring me to walk away from an incredibly good position to try something reckless and new but incredibly fulfilling.

JULIE WOLFSON: Living in Los Angeles has introduced me to people, ideas, and flavors from all over the world as well as a strong sense of our identity as Californians. I grew up in the Bay Area and moved here to attend UCLA. I now feel I have strong roots in both Northern and Southern California.

2.) Do you have a favorite new coffee shop?

JULIE SMITH-CLEMENTI: That’s like asking which of your children you love most. They all offer something different and it then depends on where I am. We are very close to GGET, so during the week I go there for coffee and/or lunch. In Venice I go to Intelligentsia (if there isn’t a line), or Blue Bottle for a iced New Orleans and Menotti’s if I am down by the beach.

MP: So hard to say…  I spend so much time working in our cafes that I am actually a little out of the loop for what the rest of the coffee world has to offer.  If pinned down I would say the new Tokyo location we at Blue Bottle opened in Shinjuku would be it.  While it is beautiful, I am more so enamored with the incredibly high volume we put out there that is also top notch in quality.  The place is a machine and a true testament to holding a high bar while being committed to serving everyone walking through the door as swiftly and hospitably as possible.

JW: I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. Most often you will find me at GGET, G&B, Woodcat, and Endorffeine. If I have to pick a favorite new one I’d say LocoL. I love ordering coffee for a $1 and seeing the new development in Watts and neighborhood where I use to teach theatre for the Music Center Education Department.

3.) What tool can you absolutely not live without?

TK: My iPad Pro. My greatest weapon for both productivity and distraction.

JS: My Alessi espresso pot designed by Richard Sapper in 1979. We take it with us when we travel.

JW: I can not live without my Baratza coffee grinder. Before I added it to my home coffee making set up, I was using a Porlex hand-grinder. My daughters had tons of fun teasing me about how funny I looked making coffee.

4.) If you aren’t drinking coffee, what are you drinking?

MP: If I am not drinking coffee I am drinking from the fountain of life.  Cool resign fountain of life….. ahhhh….

JW: Whisky: Macallan, Balvenie, Nikka, Yamazaki, Redbreast… I have a large collection.

TK: Carrot juice (please tell me if my skin is starting to look too orange). Can’t say no to a well-prepared cocktail.

5.) What LA neighborhood do you live in?

JS: Venice

JW: I live in Hollywood near La Brea. Between the Fairfax District and Hancock Park. Usually just tell people I live near Mozza, then they can picture my neighborhood.

MP: I live in the Arts District in down town.  It is just a few blocks away from the roaster cafe I opened.

6.) Please finish the sentence: “LA is a great design town because…”

JW: LA is a great design town because we can see creativity on display at every turn: from significant architecture to street art, metro stations to sculpture gardens. I would add new public spaces like Grand Park and the transformation of the historic Broadway Theatre District in downtown LA as examples of the vitality of the design community here. The city attracts artists and designers from all over the world, who come here to work together and be inspired by each other.

TK: LA is a great design town because the people are willing to embrace new experiences and have fuzzier tribal boundaries than other cities. There is a lot of cultural cross pollination here.

LA is a lousy design town because we’re in this anxious period where everyone is reaching for the same tropes to appear contemporary, cashing in on the same generic signifiers. Everything is lovely and in good taste but increasingly indistinguishable, commodified. People seem more comfortable taking big financial risks right now than aesthetic ones.

MP: LA is a great design town because it really does not care if anyone in NY or the rest of the world ever utters this sentence.  It is fine with doing it’s own thing and not beholden to the traditional forces at play in the industry that have a way of homogenizing even such a variable concept as ingenuity.


By AIGA Los Angeles
Published May 16, 2016
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