It’s a far from sunless day in Mar Vista California when I enter Venice Grind, a coffee shop for locals by a local. There’s a small gathering of people behind the counter, including a man with slicked black hair. I notice that he’s saying something which at present is indiscernible but seems like an order of importance. I later learn that he’s multi-tasking – dialing in for the morning while also getting notice of the just arrived bi-weekly coffee delivery from Stumptown up North.
Now, with the shops front window as his backdrop, we talk about the history of Mar Vista, the grind and the evolution of coffee as he’s tasted it.
“I grew up in this neighborhood. And, my elementary school was up the street. Like anything without attention, decay is inevitable and so it was with Mar Vista and this part of Venice.”
In the early 2000’s Venice and its skateboard culture dominated the streets. However, there wasn’t much on the Venice strip besides a pool hall, a thrift store, a guy doing T-shirts and the Rock’er Board Shop his friend Alison Copeland co-owned. Soon, he realized that he could add something to the fledgling flagships storefronts spotting the thoroughfare.
“Initially, this piece of real estate was supposed to be my office. That’s what I told my wife. And then I thought it would make a good guy’s hangout, the kind of place my dad and his Greek friends would come to.” In time, those ideas dwindled because what the community needed was a coffee shop.
Demetrius admits that the space he initially wanted was next door but the lease wasn’t available. Where The Grind sits now “looked like junk”. However, h e thought having a coffee shop would be easy in contrast to the restaurant he was managing at the time. A sighting of a friend’s works and the illustrations of skateboard aficionado Shepard Faery (before his 2008 election fame) helped shape the aesthetic of what The Venice Grind could and would eventually become.
In addition to Venice being heavy into skate punk, the sensibility was accented with a bike versus bars mentality. “I wanted to get away from that but show locals that this was a neighborhood guy coming in with roots in the area. I wasn’t an East Coast Transplant trying to take over. The Chicago based roaster Intelligentsia, would move in a couple years later and set up IntelliVenice.
Demetrius focused on keeping things simple. He maintained clean lines in the space, sourced beans from then locally owned local Ground Works – now it is flown in from Stumptown via Portland, Oregon – and enlisted local art for the shop from prints, skateboards to even the store decal.
He got a great deal on his coffee arrow above the shops doors which flashed through the night. “I wanted to make sure when people cruised by they could see it,” he said. Soon, the sign caused the unopened shop to become the talk of the community. Although it doesn’t flash now, it’s eponymous to Mar Vista’s coffee history.
Thanks to a write-up by Daily Candy by their day third and fourth day of operating the lines for local, sustainable coffee was out their door. Demetrius partnered with Groundworks for quite some time until a visit to the SCAA in Portland changed everything. “I went up there, did barista certification, blind cupping’s, and for the first time I had blueberries in my cup and it was Ethiopia. One whiff and I was, Wow!” he remembers with his voice trailing off along with his eyes. Then he was determined to meet to meet Duane Sorenson and make the Stump town switch. In time and with some talks he did and has held them exclusively ever since.
By 2006 he became a staple in the community bringing in neighbors and helping others to create businesses. Demetrios bought the space to the left of him and soon turned it into underground art hub with the coffee shop as its anchor. Mar Vista was changing and becoming a destination where those on bikes, frequenting bars, riding skateboards and in to contemporary pop culture could come and enjoy the community all because of coffee.
He admits times haven’t been easy. Feelings of being overwhelmed were part of the territory. But he told his wife in the beginning; “it’s an office, so we don’t have to think about money.” And when the economy dipped in 2008 he made adjustments, he let go of the art space and leased it out – it is now a sandwich shop – Earl’s Gourmet Grub.
The Venice Grind has come a long way from its opening day when it didn’t even have a cash register to ring up sales to a space that now invests in biweekly flight shipments of one of the specialty coffee industry’s best. A visit here still echoes its roots in street culture root from its gravel pit with graffiti trash bins and its west coast fauna.
Venice Grind sounds like Blink 182 | Natives.