Boasting executive chefs, tableside barista service and a java-centric menu, LAMILL Coffee Boutique’s Craig and Jean Min perfectly blend the dining experience with specialty coffee in the happening Los Angeles, Calif. neighborhood of Silverlake.
Craig Min discovered real coffee 20 years ago at the age of 12, while working with his father’s coffee roasterie in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. “At first, the goal was only to help the family business in times of need, but the flavor of great coffee quickly became a part of my everyday life,” says Min.
As far back as he can remember, Min cherished the gift of taste and aroma. “Although food is a daily necessity, enjoying every meal that you consume is a philosophy that I live by, whether I’m dining in a celebrated Michelin kitchen or simply soft-scrambling vegetarian hens’ eggs for my kids on a Saturday morning,” says Min.
Today, food is an obsession in Min’s everyday life, and he’s come to believe that great coffee belongs on the dining table—morning, noon and night. Along with his wife Jean, Min embraces this philosophy in all that he does with his roasting, training and wholesale company LAMILL Coffee (based in Alhambra, Calif.) and his LAMILL Coffee Boutique in the hip Silverlake area of Los Angeles, Calif.
“The philosophy behind our LAMILL Coffee Boutique was to share a full and complete experience of creative coffee and tea beverages with our guests and the culinary community,” explains Min. “Full” meaning everything from the current season Cup of Excellence winners to the French hand-painted wall mural that guests gaze upon while sipping a Japanese siphon coffee. “Presenting coffee and tea in a service format that has never been experienced by the consumer was the true vision of the LAMILL Coffee Boutique,” he says.
Coffee shines on this menu
To achieve his vision, Min visited all the best coffeehouses in the country as well as the most famous ones in major cities around the world. His conclusion? There was no one place where you could experience it all. “I wanted to create a coffee and tea experience that no consumer had ever seen,” he says.
At the LAMILL Coffee Boutique, guests select their coffee from a menu which highlights the who, how and where the coffee was crafted. Then they choose how they would like to enjoy the coffee from one of LAMILL’s seven different extraction methods available at the Boutique. “The order is put in, a ticket is printed at the coffee bar, and only then is the digitally-weighed coffee ground and prepared for tableside extraction,” explains Min. “It doesn’t get any fresher than having a knowledgeable barista extract your choice of coffee at your table while describing the tasting notes of what you are about to experience.”
Indeed, Min and his wife take the coffee experience to new heights, especially when they involved their good friend Michael Cimarusti (see more about Cimarusti on page 12), the owner and chef of Providence, a celebrated two Michelin-star restaurant in Los Angeles.
“Michael created a menu for LAMILL that has captured the hearts of many food critics across the country,” says Min. “Coffee and tea inspired ingredients, like a coffee-washed Spanish cow’s milk cheese, are some of the rich essences of coffee found in our cuisine.”
And for something sweet, LAMILL looked to Adrian Vasquez, the pastry and confection chef at Providence, who contributed to the menu with a selection of eight desserts that pair harmoniously with the Boutique’s coffees and tea.
Excellence from the start
Back when the Mins were developing the concept of LAMILL, a focused selection of foods was important to them from the beginning. “I felt our message for the artistic beverage was to be embraced by well-executed cuisine that highlighted the beverages,” shares Min. “The art of balance is always difficult to achieve. We viewed this also as a risk because of the potential failure of food execution that would eventually result in a poor reflection on our brand as a whole.”
In his pursuit of quality, Min generated a few million airline-miles during his search to identify the most dedicated farmers, cooperatives, international flavors, cultural preferences, unique extraction devices and coffee machine craftsmen. “Through these travels I have been fortunate to experience how people of the world view and enjoy the sacred brew,” reveals Min. “I wanted to bring all these experiences under one roof so that our guests could enjoy.”
LAMILL’s overall approach to the selection of its ingredients and beverage preparation is a simple philosophy: Source the best available or make it in the kitchen. Thus, their milk is bottled weekly by Strauss Organic in Northern California and pasteurized at a lower temperature to retain sweetness. They melt French Valrhona chocolate chips to sweeten their mochas, and their vanilla syrup is prepared from pure raw sugar infused with Madagascan Vanilla bean stems. “We cook, infuse, extract, muddle and squeeze our hearts out to make our ingredients daily,” Min says.
To offset the fine cuisine and coffee, Min’s wife Jean, who comes from the world of style, branding and design in the entertainment industry, shifted gears to create the brand identity for LAMILL. “Anything you touch and see, she has created,” says Min. “She decorated the Boutique to represent our personal style preferences, in atmosphere and visual stimulation. Every item was hand picked by us during the building process. Style and functionality was the priority.”
All of LAMILL’s high-end coffee gear, for example, was harmoniously styled with the look and feel of the boutique. “We found a 19th century brass chandelier, which now serves as the centerpiece of our dining room, and we married it with a one-of-a-kind hand-pounded brass La Marzocco FB80, which was built as their 80th anniversary machine,” points out Min. “And before Clover was acquired, they made five rich red wine-colored Clover machines for me to match our banquette seats.” Even Mahlkonig in Germany did custom interior body colors to showcase LAMILL’s grinders and tie in with their dining room swivel chairs. “In fact, you may not even notice the color marriages unless someone mentioned it to you,” smiles Min.
The impact of their efforts?
LAMILL’s surrounding community, foodies, food press, coffee industry, style press, celebrities and conscious consumers have responded warmly and graciously to Craig and Jean Min’s concept, and they continue to receive encouragement and accolades. In fact, they’ve been featured in over 60 articles and received mentions in national publications across the country.
Surprisingly, 2009 was a growth year for LAMILL as they only opened their doors in January 2008. Now, the Mins plan to open more coffee boutiques this year in Los Angeles; then they’ll move up the coast to one of their favorite cities: San Francisco.
Certainly with LAMILL, the Mins managed to create the ultimate in experience, education and style. “It was our intention that guests would expect the same level of quality the next time they were enjoying a cup elsewhere,” says Min.
Learn from LAMILL’s success
What can members of the Specialty Coffee Association of America do to educate restaurants to serve specialty coffee and blend it with the dining experience? According to Min, that’s the billion-dollar question. “I am a strong believer in supply and demand,” says Min. “If the consumer demands a product, then it creates a supply chain. It’s the consumer that drives the cover counts in any establishment.”
To help in this effort, LAMILL fosters many valuable relationships in the culinary arts community, the culinary media and with lifestyle media agencies. Through these relationships, they preach their gospel to help the consumers and operators understand the difference in making the move from okay coffee to great coffee. “For the operators that do care about coffee and tea service, I notice that the care extends to all elements of the dining experience,” explains Min. “When every detail is executed with care, from the fresh baked bread that is served to the coffee that is poured, lasting, memorable impressions are created.”
Min believes that every cup counts toward the impression a restaurant makes with its guests. So, LAMILL’s own coffee programs for other dining establishments includes: water analysis; specialty coffee training for all staff, including management; technical hands-on training curriculums tailored for the level of the operators commitment; scheduled visits to monitor taste profiles; and scheduled technical visits to address all equipment functionality.
“When the restaurant operator experiences our thorough detailed commitment to execution and quality, this begins to alter their perception on quality coffee,” says Min. “We have quickly learned that we cannot force people to care about their businesses, but we can try and assist them in achieving the excellence they desire.”
To learn more about LAMILL Coffee and the LAMILL Coffee Boutique, visit www.lamillcoffee.com.