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Choose your own adventure at Handsome Coffee Roasters in the Arts District

By Hayley Fox
Published: Monday, July 02, 2012, at 11:14AM

Handsome Coffee Roasters is located on Mateo Street in the Arts District.

The Handsome Coffee Roasters opened their first retail store this year -- and their location in DTLA's Arts District was chosen for a reason.

"There are a lot of neighborhoods in town or in the country [where] we could have done this and it would have been a colossal flop," said Tyler Wells, one of the owners of Handsome.

He said that he, along with co-founders Chris Owens and Michael Phillips, chose this fairly sparse stretch of land on Mateo Street to try and create a new epicenter for the district.

"Rather than just riding some coattails we wanted to start something," he said.

The coffee shop is also the trio's quaint factory where they roast beans four days a week and provide "warehouse-to-cup" service, according to Wells.

The brand's name, the building's signage, the simplicity of the menu and the vintage coffee roaster they use all recall an earlier era -- and this is precisely what Handsome was going for, Wells said.

Their brand name was meant to evoke an "old-timey" and "hospitable" feel, he said, and channel a time of "full-service gas stations where someone checks your air pressure, or a general store where everyone knows your name."

Roasters first and foremost, Handsome has 35 accounts in California and another 40 or so across the rest of the country. This business has allowed them a little freedom as they find their footing in the retail world, but so far the reception has been "remarkable," said Wells.

At 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday the shop was bustling -- with an assortment of classic rock playing on the speakers and groups of people gathered around the long central table or sitting on the bench outside. Wells said the space is popular for meetings -- even without outlets or WiFi.

He acknowledged the fact that in a coffee world where people are used to getting exactly what they want -- soy milk, sugar-free vanilla syrup, single pump caramel, etc. -- that offering only coffee, espresso and whole milk may turn a few customers off.

"We knew we'd never be everything to everybody, but we really want to be a really wonderful thing to a smaller group of people," said Wells. "What we want to do is serve really exceptional coffee but do it in a way that sort of no one has really done before -- and make it accessible."

The baristas at Handsome are genuinely friendly and, according to Wells, will engage you in as much (or as little) coffee conversation as you'd like.

"The idea is you don't come in here and get met with some ultra-coffee nerd," he said. "The things that go into growing, sourcing, shipping and roasting coffee is pretty in depth and pretty remarkable -- but we don't need to cram that down people's throats."

Wells said that most people who come in, try the coffee and possibly venture out of their comfort zone, end up liking it -- but they still get the occasional angry voicemail, he joked. In an effort to help coffee-drinkers find something they like, Handsome's packaged coffee is labeled with an "A" or a "C". "A" is for adventure -- bean flavors that are a little more experimental, diverse or distinct. "C" is for comfort -- a quality roast more similar in taste to everyday blends.

"We're in a position while, being incredibly hospitable, of trying to change people's perception," Wells said. "Which is a very slippery slope."

Their coffee beans arrive from all over the world, and as one of the partners, Owens, begins to travel more and build relationships in South and Central America, they will have an even better idea of where and how their beans are harvested, Wells said.

"Coffee is fruit, it's produce, so it's seasonal - so its better when its fresh," he said, adding modestly that their job as roasters is "not to mess them up" and to do their best to "preserve what the earth made."

Wells said that eventually they'd like to open up more retail stores including one on the Westside, but added that they never want to become a "Starbucks-size" chain. He said there's still a shortage of quality coffee shops in L.A. and believes that their new store will only compliment the options already out there.

"For some reason there's some stigma that everyone's competing for the same business -- but i think there's plenty of business," said Wells.

Handsome Coffee Roasters is located at 582 Mateo Street


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