Words & Images by Eff Ulloa
In an industrial pocket of DTLA, on Santa Fe Avenue in the Arts District sits the tranquil, bright and airy coffee shop known as Maru Coffee. Although this is the second location, this was the first location to draw us in. Maru is the brainchild of co-founders Jacob Park and Joonmo Kim (JJ). Two very different people who came together for one common purpose, a purpose that was not quite clear at first but today includes two successful coffee shops and one soon to be coffee roaster. This story of success plays well with our push to find successful entrepreneurs, talents, and visionaries that pursue a greater good.
Both Jacob and Joonmo have a passion for the finer things in life but it’s their passion for creating a meaningful space that provides a quiet escape along with a quality cup of coffee. On a regularly beautiful day in Los Angeles, I sat down with these coffee connoisseurs and spoke more about their craftsmanship and all things Maru. The first thing I wanted to address was the minimal aesthetic of their space. For the average person, Maru looks like the quintessential minimal coffee shop. But JJ explains how they didn’t set out to be minimal, “We set out to create a space that was the opposite of the hustle and bustle of the everyday life. For the space we choose warm light woods and avoided the clutter and because of that it essentially became more minimal. Which we think that people are drawn to that because when they swing by our space they get to have some tranquility even if it’s just for five minutes. We wanted almost like a retreat from the outside world.” But Maru goes beyond aesthetics, it’s also quite functional. JJ drew inspiration from their Asian culture and created furniture that was lower to the ground and open in a way that people can look up away from their devices. The space sets out to foster a sense of community.
So who are Maru’s customers? Well typically they’re locals who need some coffee, really good coffee as well as a place to just breathe, escape and regroup their overly taxed senses. Maru sticks to a very traditional coffee shop menu. Nothing crazy or too fancy. Maru isn’t here to reinvent the wheel, instead Jacob and Joonmo are here to put their special spin on it. “Cream Top, one of our popular drinks, along with other drinks are drinks that are not new per se but our goal was never to create new drinks but instead make what already exist even better. Our whole philosophy for our drinks and our operations is ‘Kaizen’ which is the Japanese word for continuous improvement,” says JJ.
Both Jacob and Joonmo aimed to create a good space with great coffee, which taps into the current shift in the market, a shift that has been slowly changing the way industries do business. What shift are we talking about? Well the shift from quantity to quality. It’s a shift that comes thanks to a generation of people who are seeking to belong and connect with everything they touch, from the clothes they wear, to the food they consume. People are now chasing high quality stuff and are willing to spend the money on it. So I asked JJ what their take was on this shift and this is what he had to share, “It is quite hard for people to revert back to low end stuff when they have tasted quality. It’s not about being bougie but more about gravitating towards that which is good. Usually you find that small businesses are those places that you find the best stuff. And although we don’t advertise it, an example would be on our emphasis on using almost all organic products. It might sound cliché but we believe that we should be able to eat what we serve.”
Good quality coffee in two locations in Los Angeles sounds great for us Angelenos, but Jacob and Joonmo open their Maru doors to the world, welcoming everyone willing to take a pause.
The future is bright and quite aromatic for Maru Coffee as they set out to soon introduce their own roasting. JJ is determined to control every place their coffee goes. The goal is to sell direct to consumers so they can guarantee high quality coffee. Although roasting can open up opportunities for wholesale amongst other things, JJ does not see Maru heading into that arena, unless it makes sense to their overall vision, a vision focused on being good, doing good and continuing to improve. As we see the duo continue their craft, I am sure we will soon see them standing on what translates to a mountain top in Korean, “San Ma Ru” or Maru for short.