Intelligentsia's Doug Zell Talks About Coffee, LA Café Culture & David Myers

Cappuccino at Intelligentsia Venice
Cappuccino at Intelligentsia Venice
Amy Scattergood

Intelligentsia Venice opened last Monday on Abbot Kinney, behind an iron gate in a sleek loft-y space filled with all manner of shiny coffeegeek gadgets. The shop looks like a cross between a MOCA installation and a meth lab. So we thought we'd call up company founder Doug Zell and ask him some questions to mark the happy (Venice java fiends no longer have to cross Lincoln for Intell) and highly-caffeinated occasion.

Squid Ink: How is LA different than, say, Seattle or Chicago, coffee-wise?

Doug Zell: I think LA got a later start in terms of the very best coffee can offer, but they seem to be embracing it with the religious zeal of a convert. I also think that the weather (Mediterranean-like) and the pace in Los Angeles are very conducive to café culture and one of small drinks (espresso, macchiato, cappuccino) versus a larger, steamy cup of coffee.

SI: Intelligentsia sources worldwide; any new sourcing projects or finds you can share?

DZ: Tanzania is our latest coffee to become Direct Trade. Actually what I'm even more excited about is that I am on my way to Colombia for an event, the first of its kind, that we are putting on for 15+ of our producers from around the world, with three days of workshops, seminars, comparative tastings, a cupping competition and a general sharing of collective coffee knowledge. Most growers will never attend something like this and it certainly creates the opportunity to move great coffee even further.

SI: Do you see David Myers [chef-owner at Sona and Comme Ça] when you're in town? He's an old friend, if I remember correctly, from his days as a Charlie Trotter slave.

DZ: Right when we opened our first coffeebar in Chicago there was this kid (which I guess I was at the time too) who was there bright and early each morning, after working a long, exhausting shift at Charlie Trotter's. My wife and I didn't have much to offer at the time, but we had this kid over for what little we could put together, including some decent wine. That was David Myers. Shortly after that he left Chicago; he said he'd see us somewhere in the future and we wished each other well and said he would always remember the unsolicited kindness.

About ten years later I landed in Los Angeles to meet David. He was the same guy, just as intense, excited about great food and the possibilities. We've gotten together occasionally, and seeing as he lives near our new coffeebar in Venice, I suspect I'll see him more often. He serves our coffee in all of his restaurants and we are thrilled that our Venice location will be Comme Ça's first wholesale account for their spectacular pastries and desserts. So there it is, a true story. It's great to be working together after all this time. And who says things don't ever work out right?

Intelligentsia Venice, 1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 399-1233.


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