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
This week I had the pleasure to meet with Kirk Bairian, Co-founder of No Greater Good Magazine, and take him around Tokyo for the weekend while sharing my experience for his magazine! Thanks again Kirk for entrusting me for the weekend! Excerpt taken from original published post here
My name’s Lillian Lin. I’m a full time Interior Designer.. chef, blogger, and photographer who moved from Los Angeles to Tokyo in May 2014. You can follow up with my latest recipes on TheChefcharette.com and my adventures on my personal blog: Lillianlin.com!
a. What drove you to Tokyo?
Throughout my childhood, I loved cooking, arts and crafts, and architecture.. and I was always mesmerized by Japanese cuisine, art, and culture. I was so keen to learn how to properly assemble a bento box and package gifts so well since I loved preparing meals, baking and shipping cookies for friends… and I also wanted to learn to live more minimally and nourish my own future family well. All the Japanese moms I’ve also met have always excelled in all these hospitality and household managing areas…so I thought I could really learn from them to apply these skills into my life since I’m so passionate about design, hospitality, and building a bright, future family.
While I was studying architecture at USC, I was accepted a job opportunity to design this rooftop cafe in Ginza for Itoya, this stationery company I was interning for in their LA office. Itoya invited me to come, move to Tokyo as soon as possible, so I had to fly in a week after graduating and start working on this project immediately…Hahah It was an INSANE transition, since I had to move out of my apartment,say goodbye to all my friends within a week, start learning Japanese quickly since hardly anybody in the office spoke English, and I was completely financially broke… but I believed it was an amazing opportunity I couldn’t miss and that it was worth immersing myself in this culture that excels in all areas I wanted to grow…Although it’s still been a difficult journey, I’m very thankful that I came and am at this point today, because the experience of working and living here has definitely honed all the hospitality, design, and woman skills I wanted to hone.
b. What’s been the hardest aspect of Japanese culture to adapt to? The easiest?
I think the hardest aspect of Japanese culture is the communication barrier…not necessarily speaking and listening to the language (which is difficult), but more-so understanding, accepting, and committing to Japanese standards. I think Japanese expectations are generally exponentially higher and stricter than American/European standards… Particularly, the Japanese working environment is very unique, strict, traditional, and usually not flexible. I’ve been working here for almost two years and although I’m very used to constant bowing and speaking like this Japanese…secretary, it’s still a very physically, mentally difficult environment to adapt to.The easiest is figuring out things to do and what to eat, whether you’re by yourself or with friends. Japan comes up with some of the craziest, strangest, and most fun activities that are easily accessible all over the country so my friends and I never get bored. The food and restaurant standards are so high that you don’t need to Yelp or check with people for food recommendations. You can easily walk into a random place and find something at least decent to eat… People even waited 2 hours for the Taco Bell here since it tastes exponentially better than the ones in America haha.
c. We know the Japanese aren’t exactly famous for their love of human interaction. Do you find this to be true, and is it affecting you at all?
Hahah oh yes… I actually didn’t know this about Japan until I settled in. But I was totally creeped out when I walked into a ramen restaurant with my senpai (professional mentor) and couldn’t see him nor the person serving food to me. I was sitting on a small stool, facing a counter, and there was a wooden board in front of me and against my sides… I watched the board in front slightly lift and hands pop out with my ramen…and had to talk to my senpai by listening through the wooden boards between us. It was SO weird and awkward to me. I eventually started feeling really uncomfortable and depressed since I went months without a hug/handshake…so my friend convinced me to buy this Duffy stuffed animal at Tokyo Disneyland so I had “someone” to hug and sleep with at night. And I seriously spent my only $40 in my wallet then on this stuffed animal for unlimited hugs and more loving nights…
d. I’ve been reading a lot of Japanese fiction lately (cough Murakami cough), and it seems that there’s always this aspect of… surrealism, or sense of magic that pervades everyday life. Do you think this is just the vestiges of ancient Japanese mysticism, or a vehicle of escape from the soul-crushing banality of the salary-man life? Or both? Or should I just stop reading so much Murakami?
I’ve actually never finished reading a Murakami book… oops…. hahah, so I’m not sure if I understand your question. But I think there is a strange aspect of surrealism here because it’s so crowded here and a lot of us still tend to feel extremely lonely and troubled to express our feelings and ideas…especially with all this high technology and little human interaction and . It’s hard to explain but even though I keep myself preoccupied with work and friends, I definitely feel it.. Especially when I’m squished commuting in trains to work, or when I hike, run, visit parks, shrines… explore and travel through Japan by myself.
e. Best food? Best coffee?
Food-wise, I am a huge sucker for izakayas. They’re basically these small, cozy, loud and lively Japanese gastropubs that serve a variety of yakitori (chicken skewers) and other traditional Japanese comfort food and drinks. My local friends and coworkers typically go to these after work or any evening and spend hours in them having a blast. Sometimes we’ll also order nomihoudai, a 2 hour all you can drink option. For something more upscale and intimate, I like Kachou in Ginza – my last CEO surprised me by treating me and my friends to a private dinner here for my last night at my first job. The interior and food presentation is absolutely stunning with gorgeous fine wallpaper, napkins, floral arrangements, and shoji screens.
My favorite coffee shop was this coffee kiosk called Omotesando Koffee; it was this 3×3 meter cube coffee kiosk tucked away in a 60 year old traditional Japanese house in Omotesando. It was always an obstacle to get to since it’s tucked away in a neighborhood, but that was part of the fun of it. Eventually you’d step into this mysterious wooden cube with delicately arranged lights and paper bags…and finally reach the counter and order from this ridiculously good looking, pleasant Japanese gentleman – barista – owner. He made the best macchiato and even small cheesecake cubes. It was like…this coffee ritual experience I enjoyed by myself on weekends. But since it sadly closed at the end of 2015, I’ve been searching for the next best coffee in Tokyo.
f. I’m in town for one night – where are you taking me? Let’s get wild.
First, we’ll eat an early dinner at an izakaya and nomihoudai (all you can drink) with a Japanese set course menu for 2 hours, run through Harajuku’s Takeshita and Shibuya’s crossing, blast through the arcades, karaoke and bar hop in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai / micro-sized pubs, take kawaii purikura photobooth pictures that filter us to make our faces look thinner and eyes look ginormous, club 11PM – 5AM in Roppongi, and eat ramen for breakfast and green tea ice cream waffles in Lawson’s until you really have to leave… You can sleep on the airplane.