That glorious dream of building a place where its no longer yours but the people for whom you’ve built it. This is the reality of Ernest Coffee, the first independent specialty coffee shop in Palm Springs where its design is as forward as the spirit of its interior energy. “I want customers to feed off our space and our space to feed off of them,” says owner, Jaime Kowal while in conversation with The Coffeetographer on Palm Springs, design and the man for whom Ernest owes its name.
c.: Ernest Coffee, in name and as a space, is a celebration of its physical past. Why the need to pay homage to what came before it in creating it?
Jaime Kowal: The amazing history of Palm Springs in general is really unique geographically. It makes sense from a heritage standpoint and a storytelling standpoint to honor it. The history is a great launching pad – it informs our logo and the physical design of the space. Physically, we needed a place to start, a place welcoming and friendly. Luckily for us, we have this incredible story, and we were able to name it after him and after a real name.
c.: How did you come to how the space would eventually be designed?
j.k.: My partner, Chris Pardo, of Elemental Designs designed the whole thing. I spent fourteen years in Vancouver – a city with a healthy coffee culture and Chris spent time living in Seattle before coming to Palm Springs. We wanted a more urban feeling, sophisticated design aesthetic, relaxed and welcoming. When we leased it, it was empty, and Chris is from a very informed and experienced space. We were able to put charging stations into the custom built benches, every table has plugs – its about the little things.
c.: It seems that you’ve personally fallen in love with lifestyle especially as a photographer in that space. Coffee culture is a lifestyle and you’re building one for it in Palm Springs. Can you speak to that process and on the extension of it to your hotel, The Amado, where Stumptown is given to weekend guests.
j.k.: That’s a really good question. It’s been a lot of work and thought, a labor of love. The coffee shop is a community base. We are in a neighborhood where that didn’t exist before. So many people thank us for opening Ernest Coffee and they say it’s a place they can walk to and meet their friends – it’s the same with Bootlegger Tiki – a bar adjacent to Ernest – since the staff and management crossover. We’ve built something comfortable, welcoming and there’s an energy about the place. People are coming to be caffeinated and to work and to be creative. I want them to feed off our space and our space to feed off them.
c.: Speaking of feeding off the space, it was that energy that I felt, that made me feel welcomed. I probably sat in at least three different spaces just to feel out the space while I was there. And, the coffee, seriously, lived up to a great cup. To that end, ‘Serious coffee, seriously’ hangs on a tank on the wall. Let’s talk about that. What is the import of this slogan and for the landscape of coffee in Palm Springs?
j.k.: It’s a joke. We take our business seriously; our coffee, our design, sustainability. But, at the end of the day we are a coffee shop and we’re a personality. We like to play around and ‘seriously’ is a play on serious – tongue and cheek. We do have serious coffee, Stumptown Coffee delivered once a week and roasted in L.A. And for the shirt, people want to take a piece of Ernest home; I had no idea we’d sell them as we have, its great.
c.: It is great. What is it like being independent?
j.k.: I’m a freelance photographer so, I’ve always been independent, done my own things, taken risks when I’ve wanted to. I have a value around independence and freedom in my life. This [Ernest Coffee], is an extension of that, as well as The Amado, and Bootlegger Tiki. Other hotels sell Stumptown, but we’d be the first indie coffee shop to carry it and develop it in a strong. On the other side of that, I have nothing to compare it to, but I know that whatever inspires us we can react quickly to it – make funny t-shirts, hold parties, support local charities and be really nimble without the worry of asking permission.
c.: How has that permission translated to what you’ve done with designing not just a coffee shop but a another place where a lifestyle can live as in the creative the guiding factors?
j.k.: Design is everything. Its communicating a brand before the owner speaks. It’s the voice for you when you’re not around, although you are around in everything. We wanted vibrant, comfortable, welcoming.
c.: Coffee shops within the culture can very much be a fashion statement – minimal, design heavy. How does the design of Palm Springs specifically factor into the space given that in this city they are great lines everywhere?
j.k.: We have amazing windows for you to look out onto the street. People driving by on North Palm Canyon can look in and it creates this reciprocal relationship of connection by a smart use of space – only 650 square feet. A local welded our bar, and the two velvet chairs [flushed by the bookcase and windows] are a juxtaposition of texture and layers, creating a little zone within the space –we wanted as many intimate zones as we could.
c.: How do you think design will play into the future of the specialty coffee shop landscape?
j.k.: I absolutely think we’ll see more of it. The relationship of design is more than a trend. It’s the way our lives are going. More and more people are becoming aware of design, space, planning sustainable space, and creating an experience for people, efficiency and a flow. Design has functional reasons for existence and touch point references. I think that design is integral to who we are, the experience people have and it creates an impact. Coffee is interesting because it’s part of a ritual and so many of us have it, it’s how you start the day. When I don’t get to go to Ernest, I miss it.
Visit Ernest Coffee in Palm Springs at 1101 North Palm Canyon Drive.