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Meet Heidy Fu and Gonzalo Otarola of Black Elephant Coffee in Atwater Village and Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heidy Fu and Gonzalo Otarola.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Black Elephant Coffee was born after an Ayahuasca session Gonzalo did with a Peruvian shaman.

We were in the process of thinking of a new name for our second coffee shop, our first one is Simply Coffee in Burbank, and we wanted a name that symbolized everything we wanted this new coffee shop to be: A place for the community to gather, a place where you can start conversations, meet old friends and make new ones, a place to make great memories- me and Gonzalo are both from Chile, South America, where coffee culture is huge but coffee shops are also places where you meet family, friends, people and everyone is always engaged in loud animated conversations. Not so much the idea of a coffee shop here in the States where everyone is in front of a laptop with earphones on.

We both missed that concept of the neighborhood coffee shop from back home. Also since we don’t have our immediately family close by, we realized that most people in LA are also far from family and alone here. Plus LA being the transient commuter city that it is, with people always sitting in cars, and with such little opportunity for face to face contact, we felt it needed more places where people were able to gather and share. We wanted to re-create a little piece of community feeling from back home, and to help create a space for people to come together.

When the big black elephant appeared in Gonzalo’s vision during the Ayahuasca ceremony, we didn’t really know what it meant. And one night when we were thinking of names for the shop, suddenly it dawned on us that the Elephant represented everything we wanted our place to be: Elephants love to live in communities, they are noble, gentle, care for their elders, and celebrate births, they also have amazing memory, and they are just such noble beings. That is how Black Elephant Coffee was born.

The name was also perfect fitting since we are huge advocates for animal rights and nature preservation. A percentage of our sales is donated to the World Wildlife Fund, and we strive for our shops to be as eco-conscious as possible.

Also, as a way to gather the community, we open our space up and offer quarterly workshops that are free for everyone to attend. We have had painting, drawing, health-related and personal development workshops at the cafe.

It’s hasn’t been an easy road to have own and run our own business, but we are certainly very grateful that we have been able to create these spaces, so we are able to give back to the community and have a communication platform where we can bring people together and raise awareness for animal rights and nature preservation.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t always been easy, we had to take a leap of faith and leave our corporate jobs in advertising, and taking out loans to start this business. We always say we didn’t really know what we were getting into, and how challenging it would be. The first year was our hardest, we worked 80 hours weeks and we lost money, but we took it as though we were doing a masters and internship in running your own business, and we learned those lessons along the way, until we got to the point where we’re able to remodel/re-brand the business and take it to the next level.

Black Elephant Coffee – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Black Elephant Coffee and Simply Coffee are specialty coffee shops where we serve Stumptown Coffee roasters. What sets us apart is our signature drinks – we have a menu for coffee snobs, another for adventurous types and one for the health-conscious.

Drinks such as Beetroot latte, Charcoal Latte, the Mexican Elephant Latte, Peanut Butter Latte, Horchata Latte, Honey Latte, Chagaccino (Chaga mushrooms, monk fruit, cacao, espress0) are some of our unique recipes!

We noticed a trend of specialty coffee shops where customer service was terrible and every hipster barista had an attitude.

We are most proud that we offer great coffee and great-tasting drinks with amazing customer service. Our team is really what we are the most proud of. We have an amazing team of baristas! This is a family business and our baristas are our extended family. Our baristas come back to hang out and/or work on their day off. We think that already says a lot!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The opening of Black Elephant Coffee has been our proudest moment because we built this shop literally from the ground up. From the plumbing to the electric cables, to the windows, etc.. We created the look, designed the place, created the brand, designed the merchandise, the menu- we did everything ourselves. There was no outside company involved. The day before opening me and Gonzalo were putting the menu together climbing on top of a ladder at 3 am. We went home at 4 am, took a shower, got dressed and came back to the shop. We got a cero sleep. That was our first day. And it was amazing! Tired, a bit scared, but just so excited…! We knew this was going to be the beginning of something truly special.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 3195 Glendale Blvd
    Los Angeles CA 90039
  • Website: Blackelephantcoffee.com
  • Phone: 323 486 7848
  • Email: hello@blackelephantcoffee.com
  • Instagram: Blackelephantcoffeela
  • Facebook: Black elephant coffee

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