Jonathan Polakoff

Indie coffee shop opens on Pier Plaza in Hermosa Beach

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Barista Alex Ljubinovic greets a customer at Scapegoat. Photo by Jonathan Polakoff

Barista Alex Ljubinovic greets a customer at Scapegoat. Photo by Jonathan Polakoff

by Jonathan Polakoff

Husband and wife Ryan Lorenzen and Catherine Lorenzen have traveled all over Los Angeles in search of artisanal coffee, often leaving their home in Hermosa Beach for trendy, independent shops in Venice or downtown Los Angeles, only to wonder why they needed to venture so far for their fix.

“We kept scratching our heads and said, ‘Why is there nothing like this in the South Bay?’ Ryan Lorenzen said.

So, together with Catherine Lorenzen’s brother, Ben Allwood, in mid-March they opened Scapegoat, an independent coffee shop on Pier Plaza. It is housed in a modern but tiny space that was annexed last year from Pier Surf.

Scapegoat specializes in so-called third wave coffee, a growing niche in the industry that focuses on offering a gourmet product, produced through close relationships with farmers and often sold at independent shops. (Coffee’s first wave came in the 19th century when Folger’s introduced its brews into many households, and the second wave came when Peet’s and Starbucks stores proliferated in the mid-to-late 20th century, food writer Jonathan Gold has said).

Scapegoat buys its beans from Stumptown in downtown Los Angeles, a coffee roaster based in Portland, Oregon, with additional locations in Seattle and New York.

“My hope is the shop brings coffee culture to the South Bay,” Catherine Lorenzen said.

The shop’s menu focuses on the basics: espresso, café Americano, macchiato, cappuccino, latte, mocha, cold brew and tea. One of the house specialties is “nitro,” a cold brew that pours from a tap and settles with a cascading effect and foamy head similar to a Guinness beer. There are also pastries from Brentwood’s Farmshop on offer.

“The idea is to do a few things and do them well,” Ryan Lorenzen said.

Ryan Lorenzen noticed last year that the space was sitting vacant after Pier Surf downsized, letting go of a portion of its store previously used for surf rentals. His previous business ventures were primarily in multi-family real estate and resort development on the East Coast, but he had a vision for a coffee shop.

He leased the space from owner Bolour Associates, the Beverly Hills development firm that plans to build its Pier + Strand hotel project at and around the location. Scapegoat could have a place in the future development, although it’s far from settled. The hotel project is still in the planning stages.

To prepare for the shop’s launch, the partners pored over construction and design plans for months, choosing to incorporate high-end touches such as carrara marble, wooden stools from a Montessori school in the U.K., dangling lighting fixtures purchased from New York, frameless windows facing the plaza and a La Marzocco espresso machine – “the Ferrari of espresso machines,” Lorenzen said. Vintage surf films play on the white wall behind the barista.

As for the name?

“We’ll bear the blame for the South Bay’s new coffee addiction,” Ryan Lorenzen said.

He said he’s been learning the business on the fly and figuring out how many beans to purchase wholesale on any given week. The shop has foregone traditional advertising, choosing instead to spread the word on social media with images of delicately-designed espresso and mocha foam.

Alex Ljubinovic, a barista who works at Scapegoat, said he goes out of his way to discuss how Scapegoat is different from big coffee chains. His training included a few hours of instruction at Stumptown in downtown Los Angeles.

“You say ‘barista’ and people think ‘green apron and push a button,’” he said. “You have to educate.”

As the shop gears up for its first summer on the plaza, Ryan Lorenzen said he’s expecting a spike in business. He’s planning to hire two or three additional baristas and expanding hours from the current 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to include later evening hours. He’s also planning to set up a small outdoor seating area on the plaza.

He said the opportunity for Scapegoat could be big enough to support additional locations.

“I can see multiple locations,” he said. “We’re already sniffing around a little bit to see what makes sense. There’s a lot of potential for what this could be when it grows up.”

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