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Opening in the Time of COVID

MVB Coffee Lounge by Marcell Von Berlin on Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood, CA

In February of 2020, I took a trip to LA to visit a prospective cafe. I was excited for the opportunity to plan out a beautiful cafe with an edgy menu on trendy Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood in the iconic storefront of designer Marcell Von Berlin. I had lived in LA previously for over five years, so the client base and the location were already familiar to me. I had already sketched out a food and beverage menu, a service model, and some local sources when the unexpected happened. Everyone knows how March of 2020 went; a total shutdown for all food and beverage establishments. Construction halted, and there was a lot of uncertainty for four weeks. Then I received a call, and the project was going through. The only difference was that we had no idea when it would open and when we would be allowed to complete construction or serve people in person.

My first draft of coffee bar layout

My 2nd draft of Coffee Bar layout and equipment

MVB Coffee Lounge in Feb. 2020 in the early stages of demo and construction. My quick plan for the coffee bar layout which lead to plans with greater detail.

The key to keeping the project going throughout all the lockdowns and rolling guidelines and requirements was consistency. Our team held weekly Zoom meetings to hold a vigil to keep this project alive. Everyone was on board, and Marcell was a big part of motivating the team. We made good use of “down” time and perfected our plans, and ordered long lead items well in advance. We were able to secure our equipment and building materials at discounted rates because no one else was building at this time. Once we came into 2021, restrictions started lifting, and the work began to speed up. By now, our weekly Zoom calls had become voice calls as we had all turned off our cameras and preferred simply to talk.

MVB Coffee Lounge pre-opening

The status of productivity changed on a bi-weekly basis. As we approached completion and opening, the momentum tapered more and more. Every step became slower and required more effort as if we were walking in quicksand. Department of Building was backlogged and understaffed, so they were slow to review permits. Department of Health had the same issues, so the process dragged on. In December of 2020, I could still secure 20,000 customer paper cups in 4 weeks. By July, the lead time had turned to 18 weeks. We were building our cafe as the ground shifted beneath us.

In September of 2021, the cafe was finally built and passed DOH inspection; however, it was now the lead-up to fashion week. Working in a cafe with a global fashion brand means that sometimes there are more important things than coffee. Marcell launched a new line of clothes and accessories while I finished preparations in the background. Once the success of the fashion show was behind us, everyone became focused on the cafe again. We moved quickly, and I flew to LA to hire a GM that would be able to take over at hand-off.

The final touches are in we are just about to open.

I was lucky enough to find a great GM to drive the project once I completed my part. We staffed up, populated the space with our ingredients, small wares, and POS system. I came back to LA to train the team. Mask mandates were in full swing, as well as vaccination card requirements. We prepared the staff on updated cleaning procedures and schedules. We also proved the service model, completed the supply chain and processes. Just three months shy of two years on the project MVB Coffee Lounge inside the clothing store of Marcell Von Berlin was finally open.

There were many ups and downs over the two years. However, our weekly meetings were a lifeline and kept my compass sharp through the doldrums of 2020. Through this project’s long and slow struggle, the most significant takeaway was the necessity of consistent communication, strong leadership, and a collective desire to succeed.

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