Cruising down York Boulevard in Highland Park between Avenue 50 and Aldama is an experience in food whiplash. The last six months have seen openings of at least four new restaurants or bars, but coffee hasn't been a part of the rapid neighborhood transformation recently. Until a few months ago, the long-standing Cafe de Leche and the Highland Cafe were the only independent coffee shops on that part of the strip. When Phill Kim, Eric Pfleeger and Kevin Hockin opened Collage, their coffee shop next to the recently shuttered Elsa’s Bakery and the French bistro Ba, the Highland Park neighborhood responded positively.

The 200-square-foot cafe, previously a studio and retail space, was renovated by the Collage team. But well before that, their story began with the beans.

Collage uses Wisconsin-based Ruby Coffee Roasters, owned by Kim’s friend Jared Linzmeier. The Collage guys figured out their own brew formula. “Whenever Jared has a new roast, I can just text him and ask what the best specs are to make coffee,” Kim explains. “We’re only part of the process, because Jared does his best to build this amazing product. Jared has the same machine we use, the same grinder. All of this process gives us a really beautiful starting point. But the result is in the cup.”

Credit: Mona Holmes

Credit: Mona Holmes

Customers describe Collage’s taste as rich, with no bite; creamy, strong and not bitter. If coffee isn’t on your list, choose the lemonade with hibiscus flower. There’s a cold brew that looks a bit like sludge coming out of the tap. But Collage's owners say customers love it. Coffee and tea are served in ceramic cups handmade by Kim.

Collage’s food menu is a bit unusual: There isn’t an avocado toast to be found. But it does have a gluten-free, vegan waffle on a stick. The gluten-filled breads are from the respected Bub & Grandma’s. Collage chose its vendors using a simple metric: Kim loves what they do. “It’s good to just believe in your friends and be super excited by what they’re doing.”

Without the colorful exterior, you could easily miss Collage. It’s tiny. But the bold tiles lining the walls are charming and eye-catching; they were designed by FAILE, the Brooklyn-based street-art duo Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller.

5106 York Blvd., Highland Park; (323) 682-8206,

LA Weekly