Chicago native Tohm Ifergan first focused professionally on music, touring as a drummer for years, and filling in the gaps with barista work. As his travel increased, coffee increasingly took hold and Ifergan gradually spent more time holding an espresso tamper than drumsticks. He worked at Portola Coffee, clocking time behind the company’s experimental Theorem bar. In 2017, he made an entrepreneurial leap with cousin Philippe, opening Dayglow Coffee in Silver Lake. This summer, they expanded to a tiny subterranean space on a West Hollywood side street. At both existing locations, and at forthcoming outposts in a Chinatown food hall and his brother’s Chicago brewery, Dayglow is a “maximalist multi-roaster” concept complete with cocktail-style coffee beverages named for movies. The company’s coffee program is clearly among the industry’s most ambitious. Ifergan recently shared insights into his background and approach.
Joshua Lurie: What’s the very first cup of coffee you ever remember drinking?
Tohm Ifergan: Growing up, my dad would always drink an instant coffee with chicory called Ricoré. It’s commonly found in France, where he grew up. I remember tasting it and thinking that it was interesting, but bitter. He would always drink it with these little schoolboy or BN Biscuits. I wouldn’t drink the coffee, but loved dipping the biscuits.
JL: Was it a given that you’d work with coffee for a living, or did you consider other careers?
TI: I honestly never thought I’d be doing this for a living. I spent most of my 20’s touring professionally as a drummer. Coffee was always a side job for when I was home from touring. I grew a passion for coffee by traveling and visiting all the world’s best cafes and roasteries. Every time I’d tell my boss at Portola I was going on tour they’d say it’s unlikely I’ll have a job when I’m back. However, as years went by and seasoned baristas left, my skill set grew and I became more valuable to them. It wasn’t until my wife and I were expecting our first child did I start to consider coffee as a career option. The irony is I’m probably home less than when I was traveling.
JL: You’ve described Dayglow as a “maximalist multi-roaster” coffee bar. How much is too much when it comes to coffee selection, and what prompted you to cast such a large global net when sourcing roasted coffee?
TI: My biggest takeaway from visiting cafes globally was a tendency to select no more than 3 roasters to offer. I thought that was interesting because in beer and wine it’s more compelling to see a deeper, well curated list. I wasn’t aiming for a particular number of roasters to carry. My goal was simply to seek out and offer what is currently the best of the best for both my community and online. Seasonality is crucial in coffee and when you’re dealing with so many up and coming roasters, our job is to find the gems. I like that flexibility because I never have to resort to less interesting coffees just to fill a need in my cafe, as many roasters do. On the consumer side it provides constant variety and introduces them to a lot of roasters they otherwise might not have had the ability to try. It’s certainly less cost efficient (to carry many international roasters) however they are, in my opinion, roasting some of the best coffees in the world. I think giving them, along with other underrated domestics, a presence in L.A. is what makes my job fun.
JL: You’ve become known for signature coffee beverages, first with Theorem at Portola Coffee, and now with Dayglow. Why is it important for coffee bars to offer signature drinks? Also, what are some keys to concocting a great coffee cocktail?
TI: Coffee is such an interesting ingredient that can be used in so many ways. I think we owe it to the customer to utilize its natural characteristics in a much more creative way than just sweet lattes. Innovative signature drinks have been part of competition routines for years, but rarely make it to the cafes. There’s obviously factors (labor/cost) that go into it, but I believe it’s 100% worth it to push yourself to create something that makes you think of coffee in a completely different way. My biggest key is if you’re building a drink that’s coffee forward, really highlight the nuances and acidity. Ask yourself: if you used any other coffee, would it be as compelling? If you prefer something easy to drink, use something else as a base and integrate coffee in different ways.
JL: Each Dayglow Coffee location has a signature color: millennial pink for Silver Lake, mint green for West Hollywood, peach for Chicago, and cobalt blue in Chinatown. Tell me about the origin of Dayglow’s color scheme, and what does each color say to you about each particular location?
TI: Initially, we opened as “Neon” and our brand was entirely pink. It was shortly after opening that we were forced to rebrand. My friend Anton, whose company did our branding, came up with the idea of Dayglow being iridescent and building the brand around holographic foil. When we talked about the new shops, we saw it as an opportunity to expand on Silver Lake’s monochrome color story. We’d create a spectrum through locations as a whole rather than implementing lots of colors in each space. I chose the colors for each location based on multiple factors of the spaces themselves. Chinatown being within a food hall and under a skylight, I wanted a bold/vibrant color that would stand out in the space with heavy natural light. West Hollywood being more intimate venue, I chose mint which is more tranquil. In Chicago, the bar design is much more modern with sharp lines. I liked peach as a comforting color to balance the space and make it more inviting.
JL: What are some key facets to company culture, and what are some efforts you’ve made to foster culture?
TI: Having worked for intense environments my whole life I wanted to create a work culture that was a lot more light hearted. I give my staff a lot of trust to do their jobs and freedom to create. Coffee can be super serious, especially when you set such high standards. I’m very fortunate to have a staff that is really passionate. We support each other and have fun. As an owner, I do what I can to be transparent and commutative about everything. We offer ownership opportunities for long-term employees. I know what it’s like to put a lot into a business with your personal experience/ideas and never see anything from it. I also like to be super flexible with everyone’s schedules. Your job should add to your life, not take you away from it.
JL: What are you doing to ensure that Dayglow is still thriving in 10 years?
TI: A lot can change in 10 years in the coffee industry. We’re already seeing big shifts at origin with higher emphasis on processing methods. I can’t say where I think Dayglow will be as company then. I do know that I’ll always be pushing to innovate and advocate sustainability. We’re always learning and adapting, while building community in our industry. We all have to support each other to succeed.