Kyle Glanville had a high school job at Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company, but it wasn’t until he moved to Seattle to study theatre at Cornish College of the Arts that he started taking coffee seriously. In 2001, he started working as a barista at Victrola Coffee, and five years later, moved to L.A. to help Intelligentsia Coffee set up their influential Silver Lake café and Glassell Park roasting works. Glanville later oversaw the company’s expansion to Venice and Pasadena, led the Black Cat espresso project, rose to the rank of Director of Innovation, and ostensibly ran Intelligentsia’s West Coast operations. In 2008, he even won the United States Barista Championship. Earlier this year, Glanville left Intelli to co-found G&B Coffee with Charles Babinski. They have plans to open cafes and to roast, but started with a rotating roster of roasters at an extended pop-up in the Silver Lake home of Jessica Koslow’s SQIRL. Expect an upgraded space, market-driven food from Koslow and chef Ria Wilson, and exacting coffee standards, down to the gram. Glanville shared caffeine fueled insights.
How hard was the decision for you to leave Intelligentsia?
I’ve always known that my path would lead me to some sort of entrepreneurial event, even if it was a short-lived failure. My daughter was on her way into the world, my dad got cancer, so there are all of these big life events that put your mortality and existence into some clearer perspective. I realized waiting wasn’t going to make it easier, it was just going to make it later…I had been contemplating it and talking with my wife for a few weeks. I woke up in the middle of the night, cinematically, woke up my wife and said, “I’m going to resign tomorrow.” We had been talking about it, so it wasn’t super abrupt, but the decision to pull the trigger was pretty immediate.
Was Charles the first person you ever considered a venture with?
Yes. I think that what a new coffee business or a new bar or a new restaurant really struggles with is to stay relevant over time. A lot of that struggle is centered around the ownership, the founders, stepping out to do some bigger business things for their companies. I knew that I could not be both the boots on the ground and also forming business development and pushing the company forward. I can do a little bit of both, but I could not fulfill everything it would take to achieve both of those things. Maintaining a really strong culture is essential to our business plan; it’s essential to our success. What is essential to that is present ownership. By having somebody else who’s like-minded and a little bit redundant, but also better than me at coffee, it allows us to think a lot bigger about what we can do with this in the long run.
The core of the business is still coffee, but is coffee not enough for you?
No, coffee is, but coffee doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are so many different elements that go into that, and into the coffee experience, that you have to consider everything about what the experience is for people. I don’t want to dictate or define the experience, but to create opportunities for something different and compelling and delicious and sensorially good. That’s not just about brewing coffee. That’s about the ceramics. Maybe there’s a food menu. I think there should be, and how that food fits into the mix. 99% of coffee shops that have food as well, the food is throwaway. It’s not relevant. It’s not a positive part of the experience. Most of those operators will say, “Food is just something we do because people ask for it.” We want to be more serious with what we offer. People sit at home, and when you think of the vast coffee drinking at home, it might involve a newspaper, it might involve a piece of toast with jam or scrambled eggs or pastry or something else. It’s not something that happens alone. That’s a wonderful part of the ritual, and something we’ll embrace.
What will it take for you to consider G&B Coffee a success here, and big picture?
Here in this location, we don’t have very much financial pressure on us because this is not a main drag. The rent is low. It’s just the ownership running the joint. For us the success is customer satisfaction or at least interest. Something I worry about is this being too busy, because I’ve seen great coffee shops get recognized and this log-jam of customers and the overall happiness go down, maybe even quality go down. In those situations, nobody’s really happier, because the ownership’s figuring out how to give the same experience to five times as many people. The staff is figuring out how not to kill themselves, and customers are trying to reconcile whether it’s worth it. Here, the thing we’ve had success with already is the kind of leisurely approach. Not on our side, but the leisurely approach that we’ve afforded our customers to some extent, to hang out for a bit, to be able to chew fat with somebody and try different coffees and not feel the pressure of a line or not feel like they can’t go for a second because there’s a line. To me, that’s something that we have to keep.
What measures are in place to ensure that quality’s consistent ant that flow doesn’t get disrupted?
Right now the measures that are in place for the quality, stringent Q.C., a lot of scientific diagnostics on our brewing. Then also making sure the output weight of our coffee is right. I ordered another scale so I can make sure the input weight of our coffee is right. Just the sort of dependence on the two of us. We’ve been talking about what the values of this thing are for almost three months now, and we are more or less on the same page. We both trust each other and our skills. That makes it easier for us to be more relaxed about our protocol. People ask, “I need to pay.” You can pay now, you can pay later.
Are you already thinking about hiring other baristas?
Yeah, at least one.
Is what you’re looking for here different from what you would have looked for at Intelligentsia?
In what ways?
One of the remarkable thing about Intelligentsia is the 1000+ customers that can walk through the door in any given day and receive really excellent coffee. And then in addition to that, 30 or so folks who are fed – make a living – because of each of those locations. Just the excellent standards. It is rare that you would encounter a great barista at any shop in L.A. who would not trace their lineage somewhat to Intelligentsia. It is extremely rare, or even a coffee company. Intelligentsia is the place to be if you want to be if you want to grow in coffee. It has the strongest culture, it has the most advanced and complete seed to cup program and quality control programs. It’s still at the forefront of what’s happening in boutique coffee.
When you go to a coffeehouse, what are some of the signs that you’re in a good one?