Made in LA: Meet the new (and obsessive) breed of LA food artisans

From the handsomest guys behind Downtown's coffee to the hardest working gal of Silver Lake's hand-batched jams, get to know some of the best LA food artisans



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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Espresso + Milk at Handsome Coffee Roasters

Portlandia jokes aside, the DIY movement is here to stay. Love them or hate them, LA's new breed of food artisans are doing things their way. Six traditionalists (and obsessives) do the craft of coffee roasting, preserving, fermenting, cheese making and ice cream.

Tyler Wells of Handsome Coffee Roasters

Tyler Wells of Handsome Coffee Roasters Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

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Handsome Coffee Roasters
Who: Tyler Wells, co-owner/founder of Handsome Coffee Roasters
What: Coffee
Where it’s made: Downtown
Taste it at: Bäco Mercat, Ink, Le Comptoir, Red Medicine and Salt’s Cure
Wells' dirty little secret: "I went to two places in the last month and got a mocha. I drink, like, one mocha a year."

As construction of Handsome Coffee Roasters was underway in Downtown's Arts District last February, locals dropped by for their morning cup from a back door— literally—coffee bar run out of an espresso cart.

"People would come by, throw a couple bucks in the donation jar, or not," co-owner Tyler Wells recalls. "We were just trying to establish ourselves and be a part of the community." Wells and his two partners, Michael Phillips and Chris Owens, are fueled by the model of hospitality. "It always comes back to doing something better or making someone happy."  

Today, downtowners can get their caffeine fix from the roasting plant/coffee bar where 1,000 bags of coffee beans are roasted and shipped to 80 wholesale accounts a week. Handsome's coffee is also on the menus of a select few of the city's best restaurants—an enviable list of five: Bäco Mercat, Ink, Le Comptoir, Red Medicine and Salt’s Cure.

Le Comptoir’s chef Gary Menes, who's worked in the kitchens of Patina and the French Laundry, finishes his prix-fixe menu at his 14-seat pop-up with the Downtown-roasted coffee. "After my diners experience five to six courses of very intense tastes of unique products, they expect the coffee to be just as special," Menes says.

"I love what’s happening with coffee," says Wells. "It parallels what happened with food a few years ago—it’s become something culinary." Wells got his start running the coffee program at Austin’s Frank—the first Texas account for the Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee—and then made the move to Los Angeles to help open and manage Intelligentsia’s Pasadena outpost in 2010. There, he met Phillips and Owens and the trio bonded over all things coffee. Between their cumulative backgrounds—Phillips is a self-professed coffee-nerd-turned-world-barista champion who worked his way up Intelligentsia from bagging coffee to director of education; Owens’ resume includes Gimme!, Counter Culture and Ritual—they decided to branch out on their own.

"The plan was to keep the scope pretty limited in our offerings, just a couple things, but done really well,” explains Wells. Those offerings are single-origin espresso—either served straight up or with whole Clover milk—no additions, no sugar. Whether or not coffee drinkers accept the no-sugar rule, they're intent on doing things their way and with a smile.

"Handsome represents an era when men wore hats, people were polite, and you went to the store and had personal interactions," says Wells, who is, unofficially, the face of Handsome. He practices that sentiment by greeting customers—all of whom he seems to know by name—with a handshake.

Handsome is not only a local go-to for coffee drinkers, but also for Arts District residents who can now drop in for their weekly groceries at the weekly farm stand every Wednesday night.  "This is very much a community where people live. We stay open late and people can get their grocery shopping done without having to leave the Arts District," says Wells of the seasonal produce brought in by the Produce Project.

What does this mean for Handsome's future? Wells explains, "We love to host public events. We just want to be part of cool stuff." Wells would love to host a weekly, neighborhood block party, which is probably not too far from the future. Just look out for the tip jar.

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