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
Unable to sleep for the hundredth time, I called Catalina Express at 6:00 AM and bought the last ticket bound for Catalina Island on Saturday morning. I left at 5:30 AM for the harbor, boarded and arrived Avalon at 8:00 AM with my brown satchel and phone that died minutes later.
My motives for solo getaways is to liberate myself, strengthen myself, be better in problem solving independently, and discover beautiful things, places, and people. Growing up, I believed fulfilling dreams quickly = success = beauty. Now, I’m done with being pissed at myself for not fulfilling my dreams by 25. I aspired to have a cookbook published, a few recipes featured on Foodnetwork, knock out a few ARE exams, and marry a solid handsome gentleman by 25. I aspired to bust babies out by 32 and hand them brown paper bag lunches every morning at the door and prepare heartwarming comfort dinners for my husband and kids to come home to. I’ve been invited as a single individual to 14 weddings within the past 3 years, and now, I’ve accepted the fact that my dreams weren’t/won’t be fulfilled because of how naiive, stubborn, and impatient I’ve been with them. Surely I’m still determined to fulfill my dreams. Yet I forgot that many pursuits demand a period of solitude, patience, and reflection.
One thing I really love about traveling solo is that I can do whatever the hell I want, whenever. This includes a pretzel caramel stracciatella gelato in a thick, buttery waffle cone for breakfast (and chugging large iced coffees with extra espresso shots) on a Saturday morning in mid-September.
I spent the rest of my morning walking along the harbor, sketching and painting on a bench, sliding through pockets of downtown alleys to check out boutique shops and skim articles of various architecture/interiors/fashion/trashy girl magazines. By noon, I went up inland, encountered a few water buffalo, appropriately devoured some juicy, tender buffalo tacos at the peak, got lost, found a talented musician playing and singing one of my favorite songs, “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole-Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” on the ukelele. My heart sank and I almost cried as the beautiful performance ended.
On my way to Descanso Beach Club, I walked underneath the arcades of the Catalina casino, sunk onto the sand with a refreshing mojito slush while reading the latest issue of Bon Appetit. A drunk, sunburnt white dude stumbled into me as he pounded his party straw hat over my hat. He started talking to me in broken English while I was eating oysters and I couldn’t stop laughing. We fooled around and discussed stealthy acts of what we could do to cause the restaurant more problems. It’s really fun meeting other strange locals and/or travelers. A tease here and there. Not expecting more/less. A polite nod, smile, and laugh. Aside from whatever personal stories/experiences that fall into our conversations, the only personal information I give to strangers who ask, is my first name. I enjoy sharing stories with some encouragement / thought to ponder about – nothing more.
Then I was surrounded by blondes in bikinis and sailor hats shouting and spanking each other in a train lineup around a bar to an EDM version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, old chubby wrinkly sunburnt shirtless men and Latino girlfriends stroking their tattoo arms. Although it was really cute and amusing, I realized how alone and out of place I was socially and culturally. In Japan, none of these (nor me being by myself) would be proudly exposed, because these generally aren’t considered beautiful. Then I wondered what really is beautiful? For my thesis in architecture school, I investigated the definition of beauty by discussing the art of Mary Cassatt, Degas, and Angelo Merendino. I concluded that beauty is timeless, not bound by gender roles nor cultural standards. Beauty is always emotionally evocative, timeless, and always motivates you to do something out of ordinary. Now I furthermore believe It requires strength, to stand boldly, with or without support.
By sunset, I painted by the shore for T and continued to walk around the harbor, play some arcade games with hot cocoa, and while I sat and waited exhausted on the sand for the last yacht to take me back home, I read my favorite excerpt of my favorite poem again:
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot