Aside from the plethora of craft coffee shop options, Maru Coffee sits quietly along Hillhurst Ave, as this dreamy quintessential, design-build coffee shop. But it’s more than just the up and coming LA hot-spot that brews craft coffee in a minimalist space. The delicate, serene experience begins as soon as you walk in. You’ll notice the carefully crafted maple stools, a long family-style sycamore table hand-welded by the owners themselves, and cute pockets of plants and zines of poetry that peek out on a door. To your right – a serene display of soft and smooth ivory ceramics by Notary Ceramics that you look almost too sacred to touch. And after you re-gain your consciousness and that you’re supposed to order something to sip in front of you, you’ll notice the medley of sweet pastries in a glass display box, and an attractive barista team with Jacob Park rhythmically pouring water and ground coffee from Stereoscope Coffee beans. Maru Coffee brings the LA community an artistic display of both hospitality and decorum, while bringing close attention to the practice of hospitality and community.
My relationship with Maru Coffee first began when co-owner Joonmo Kim came to pick up his book bag next to me and found me flipping through my Kinfolk issue on Japan. He curiously peered over me and asked me more about what I’ve been reading. My initial visit here that was meant to be my Japanese interior design study session, developed into an extensive dialogue with Joonmo about design, culture, and ways that western and eastern cultures, traditional and modern design can integrate.
Every time I meet Joonmo here, we sit on his incredibly comfortable, soft and smooth stools and bench with our warm cups of coffee and we continue exchanging our dialogue about our experiences in Japan, Korea, America – how sharing design and cultures can contribute stronger ideas, unite individuals, and serve the community. Maru Coffee is a strong testimony to our values: it has a distinctive humble approach that resonates with quality art and service for the people.
I eagerly came for my second visit to learn more about the story of Joonmo, Jacob, and this cafe. From my childhood joy of hand-making sweets, handing them to neighbors, and studying architecture in college, my primary lifelong dream has been designing my own cafe and serving my pastries to customers. I firmly believe that good design and hospitality can brighten communities. As I approached the front door on Saturday morning, Jacob gently smiled and quietly welcomed me into the cafe before it opened. While I was gazing at their display of soft ceramics again, Jonmo playfully came in and poked me from behind, offered me help and a sip of his coffee. As I busily crouched and tip-toed to shoot photos at various angles, Joonmo politely bowed and welcomed a cute group of elderly Korean customers, while his partner, Jacob prepared a variety of coffees, my favorite almond latte, and an almond croissant powdered with fine sugar for me. We sat down and continued our conversation specifically on how Maru Coffee’s idea became a reality and future possibilities of how it can develop.
Please tell me more about your backgrounds in the coffee industry. How did you two meet and decide to collaborate and open this cafe?
JP: I’ve been working in the coffee industry for the past 12 years as a barista and a roaster. I’m also a certified Q grader. Simply put, I just want to brew good coffee. Almost half of my life, my work has involved coffee…. it’s been a long time, haha.
Jacob and I met while working at the same coffee shop. While working there, he re-taught me everything about coffee. He was so knowledgeable I knew with our different strengths and qualities, we thought we would do a good job. So we went for it.
How do you, Joonmo and Jacob, collaborate together? How are your personalities portrayed through the work you do in this cafe?
JP: I’d say I’m fairly calm and am more of a deep thinker. And I like to approach my craft and coffee the same way. I don’t think there should be any fluff in quality. I’m always testing various beans and trying to brew better, even after 12 years.
JK: Haha yeah, I give Jacob a lot of respect because I see how dedicated he is to his craft. His personality is perfect for quality. For me, I am a believer of community. I think good things happen when people get together. I am inspired by connections with people and ideas. So my mind is always on people.
Is there a meaning to the name, Maru Coffee? Why did you choose this name for your coffee shop?
JK: Maru is derived from an old Korean word, “San Ma Ru,” which means mountain top. It is our representation of high quality as good coffee beans come from high elevation.
I really admire your minimalist interior design. Who designed the interior, furniture, and how did you come up with the design approach?
JK: We both don’t have any design backgrounds, but we were both pretty particular about what we like and didn’t like. We’re both Korean, so naturally we were drawn to Korean aesthetics and design. We wanted to create a space that is simple, minimal, with warm vibes.
JP: Since I also grew up in a Korean temple as a child, we also drew some influence from my childhood. As for the furniture, we decided to design and make everything ourselves based on furniture we were inspired by. We had put together the wood pieces we had custom cut and sanded all our furniture altogether inside our shop before it opened! Youtube is a great resource, because it taught us how to do it ourselves. We mainly used light maple and sycamore. This process gave us an appreciation for real wood and its textures.
The ceramics you also have are also beautiful. Did you design these as well? If not, who and how did you find them?
JP: We had them custom made by Notary Ceramics from Portland, Oregon. Sarah, who is the ceramist, makes amazing pieces. The cups have a good weight, earthy texture, and it feels good to hold it. We are looking forward to collaborate again with Notary Ceramics.
What is your overarching philosophy when it comes to what constitutes a good coffee shop?
JP: For us, it’s simple. Good coffee and good people makes a good coffee shop.
Is there a purpose for your cafe? Do you envision your cafe to do something specific for the LA community? Would you like it to expand?
JK: To be honest, we haven’t thought about our specific purpose yet. Our main goal was to bring good coffee and we just got started… literally opened a month ago. so we’ve been focusing on that right now. It would be nice to expand but we’re taking it one day at a time.
1936 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
M-F 7:00-19:00, S-S 8:00-20:00