À bloc, the newest addition to the constantly-evolving York Boulevard, is a coffee shop, café, cycling store and community meeting place. The café held its grand opening party Aug. 19 and is the brainchild of two San Francisco transplants and restaurant industry veterans, Katherine and Johnny Richardson.
“We had a cross country [bicycling] trip where we really tried to think about how we could combine our love of cycling with what we do and know how to do, which is the restaurant business,” Johnny Richardson said.
The vision of à bloc came to fruition when Johnny Richardson met Kjeld Clark, a Mount Washington resident of over 13 years and the founder of cycling apparel brand súperdomestik, on a bike ride. Kjeld is a co-owner of à bloc and helped develop its concept and execution of concept and now aids in the day-to-day running of the business. At the time, Johnny Richardson was a bar manager on York Boulevard and Clark was selling his cycling gear in a pop-up shop in the current à bloc space. Johnny Richardson and Clark decided to merge their mutual love of cycling, coffee and food to create à bloc. The coffee shop also serves as súperdomestik’s flagship retail store and headquarters.
The store’s walls are lined with custom à bloc cycling apparel, water bottles, t-shirts, hats and coffee mugs. In addition to standard coffee shop fares such as cappuccinos and croissants, à bloc also offers options such as Italian sodas and a curried jackfruit sandwich.
The Richardsons said that they aim to be a part of their new neighborhood in Highland Park. The abundance of mom-and-pop shops, the walkability of the street and the community vibe drew the couple to York Boulevard, according to Katherine Richardson. The couple said they try to keep their business accessible through reasonable prices, the large communal tables throughout the store and the abundance of community bike rides for all skill levels.
Johnny Richardson met his wife, Katherine, a native of Marina del Rey, in San Francisco while they were both working in the restaurant business. According to Johnny Richardson, being part of the Bay Area’s food scene helped them develop a farm-to-table approach toward their cooking. The Richardsons said they stay true to this mentality by sourcing most of the ingredients for their in-house food from the South Pasadena farmer’s market, only using organic chicken, milk and eggs and making all of their pastries on site.
Not only does their local sourcing and in-house preparation of the food embody their farm-to-table approach, it also helps them keep the prices low, according to Katherine Richardson.
“I offer good-for-you food at not crazy prices,” Katherine Richardson said. “I have a $5 sandwich option and an $8 sandwich option, and because we are making all of our pastries in house, I feel like we can charge a better price than the other coffee shops that outsource because it does get pricey unless you’re making your own.”
The proximity of the shop to campus has drawn Occidental students to the York Boulevard storefront.
“When I arrived to Oxy, I was walking down York and noticed à bloc,” Enrique Goudet (first year) said. “I went in and started talking to the owners. It turned out that the shop was brand new and hadn’t even opened. The opening was the next day so I returned the day after and continued our conversation.”
Mackenzie Bretz (senior) went to the coffee shop after seeing it on Instagram. However, she said she did not end up staying long because à bloc seemed to cater to a very particular customer.
“I think there are already a lot of coffee shops,” Bretz said. “[À bloc] tries to offer something different, but only really appeals to a weird small cycling crowd which alienates others who want to enjoy it.”
À bloc will be hosting a holiday pop-up shop where local artists can come to sell their work; the date has yet to be determined.