Coffee talk with John Sofio of Cafecito Organico
Visiting Cafecito Organico—an independent and eco-conscious artisanal coffee roasting company that sources both coffee and building materials sustainably—is unlike any other coffee experience in the Los Angeles area.
Stepping into the Hoover Wilderness, Cafecito’s hidden garden in the midst of the bustling Silver Lake neighborhood, is like taking a quick vacation into a tropical (and design-centric) oasis in a far off land. Grab a seat in the back corner—the quasi “living room” of this home away from home—and experience just that: the welcome sound of life happening, ideas brewing, children playing in the grassy areas, and of course, the delicious smell of fresh-brewed coffee wafting through the morning breeze. Have I convinced you yet?
Last week, I sat down with John Sofio, famed Sunset Strip nightlife designer and co-owner of Cafecito Organico, to talk the café's roots, their holistic approach to sustainability in business, and design inspiration galore.
Meet John Sofio:
I have a company called Built. It’s a design build firm. We started it in Silver Lake in ’95, and we did almost 500 homes—between new homes and restoring homes. In about 2006, we started getting heavily into restaurants. I’m an artist at my core, so most of the things that I do, I really try to incorporate art into it, whether it’s photography or just general design. We really have focused on the creative side of our design build. Now we’re working with [night clubs] Hakkasan, SBE (Vegas, LA), and more in the hospitality space.
Not Your Average Coffee Shop:
I have two partners here, Angel [Orozco] and Mitch [Hale], and Angel is the founder. I met him when we were doing the Wilshire restaurant, and he was just roasting out of his garage in East LA. He was asking for business advice, then Mitch became his partner who would do more of the operations, and I became their partner about 4 years ago on the design and development side. So we rebranded the Cafecito logo, going on 2 years ago, and that’s where we got that strong falcon. We were able to open Malibu in Point Dume, and Anaheim at the Anaheim Packing House. That’s a really interesting space. It’s an old Sunkist packing plant. We occupy a nice corner of it. It’s a historic space, so I imagine what Cafecito would have looked like back in the ‘20s. And the other locations are in Costa Mesa at The Lab, which is kind of an Indie Space. Then we have a spot in Frog Town by the LA River, and it’s our roasting space and we’re developing a retail space out of it.
We have a core of being accessible to the people, and offering what we have to the people. Some [other coffee shops] are almost hipster for hipster sake, as opposed to giving to the community. So our coffee is a little bit lower priced. Accessibility is one of the main tenets of our philosophy. We also have really focused on how we buy our coffee. We go down to Central America and develop relationships with small farmers who have really high quality coffee and we make sure that they get a fair price for their coffee from us, and we want to help them grow not only financially, but with methods of how to produce their coffee.
Angel works with them and once a year he goes down there for about 2 months or so and kind of lives with the different farmers that we work with and helps bring their product to market, not only through us but other people who are buying.
On What to Order:
I’m focused on Americano, because I think it’s the perfect mix of espresso and a little bit of water to get that perfect balance. I think it’s a really great way to taste the coffee itself as opposed to having it masked with milks and things like that. We don’t offer the typical sugary drinks. We try to educate the client base in terms of if they want something they’ve had somewhere else we’ll show them how to go back to something a little more organic as far as taste.
On the Design:
All of this [pointing to tables and walls in the Hoover Wilderness] is repurposed from a few night club projects that we had in West Hollywood. So when we do projects they last for about 2, 2.5 years and then we change them into a new concept completely. We stockpile as much of the salvageable materials as possible. These walls that are all painted, this was a construction wall and Louis Carreon, who’s a famous artist who resides in West Hollywood and does a lot of work in South Africa, spray painted the walls and we took them and used them here. These [tables] are from the old pier in Los Angeles—they were big beams.
The Hoover Wilderness is a discovery. It was an asphalt parking lot. I saw the depth of the green that’s here, and I wanted it to be a home for the neighbors. When we started Cafecito here, this neighborhood was all gangsters and shootings. When we developed the outdoor space we considered caging it up so no one can get in here at night. But we opened it up and made it friendly to the street. Now the neighbors are like "we love that you’re here, at night when you’re open it makes the neighborhood safer."
When I saw this backyard I knew to carve out spaces within it, like this little wall creates a kind of a privacy between the spaces. All this lumber on the ground was reclaimed from the Beverly Nightclub, it was the exterior decking. So we created little raised areas and the next step was the artificial grass. We added a layering of decor and artistry with the string art, and the layering of Louis’ work.
When we only had the patio open, it was a very laptop-oriented workspace. Once we opened this [Hoover Wilderness] we saw a really creative mix of [people]. Musicians will sit on the patio and play guitar and write music. It really gave a home to the people. It’s atypical from a coffee shop when everyone has a laptop and everyone is just working not talking to each other. Here you’re seeing people sitting on the grass, by the fire pit, and we’ve created a home that people are using as their home.
I think because we see how the community gave back to us as far as love and business when we opened this space, we’re trying to find other spaces that are conducive to this type of living atmosphere. We’re trying to find up and coming communities that we can help establish.
I tried to create the sense of home here—a very residential feel. This little fire pit is a friend of ours, Mod Fire, it’s kind of the central communal area. It’s a pretty happy space and I think that’s what I really wanted to create—a place where people could be happy.