We had the good fortune of connecting with Jenny Johnson and Kjeld Clark and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jenny and Kjeld, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Founding à bloc allowed me (Kjeld) to Channel my passion for cycling culture, coffee, and food together with my 30 years of entrepreneurial skills into one amazing environment and realize a dream to build a community for people to enjoy all three.
Where are you from and how did your background and upbringing impact who you are today?
I (Jenny) never really connected my passion for feeding others to my background, however, I realize there is a direct connection! My childhood is the main reason why I love food and why I have this insatiable need to feed others. Even before abloc, I dedicated many days out of the year to making chicken noodle soup or lasagna for people who were sick or in need. I always chalked it up to Southern Hospitality. It’s what we did back in Kentucky, where I was raised.
I was born in Korea and was raised in an orphanage for the first 5 years of my life. By the time I was adopted and brought over to the states, I had developed a heart murmur from malnutrition. As a direct result of growing up hungry, I hid food under my bed and ate everyone’s leftovers once they left the table. I was like a hobbit, I ate breakfast, between breakfast and lunch snack, lunch, after school snack, dinner, before bedtime snack. I ate all the time. Years later, as an adult, I developed a more healthy relationship with food once I realized that I had consistent access to food. And today, I happily feed people for a living.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
As business owners and operators of a cafe/bakery on a busy street that already hosts several other cafes, it was a challenge to differentiate ourselves and stand out from the crowd. But we quickly realized that for us, having other coffee shops near by wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in fact, it helped to draw in people from all over Los Angeles, and there were enough customers for everyone.
However, we do have a few qualities that were baked into our initial business plan that we believe has helped to build and retain our loyal customer base.
- We decided that our community was our number 1 focus. We actively engage with everyone in our community, from those who love and appreciate a good pull of espresso to those who just need a quick pick-me-up, and to those whose current situation won’t allow them to purchase a drink or something to eat. We engage with the cycling community as well as our local businesses, schools, and residents.
2) Our specialty coffee and drinks are all crafted and made by people we know and love. From our friends at Handlebar, 10 Speed, Legal Speed, and Corsapro to our friends at Simply 3, we provide super high quality products.
3) We make most of our products in-house. From our syrups for our drinks to our house-made sourdough bread, cookies, sandwiches, salads, everything is made in house. Including our horseradish, pickles, aioli, sauerkraut, etc.
4) We are very aware of food sensitivities, allergies and preferences. We provide Vegan/GF, high quality meats, etc. Jenny has a fruit allergy and understands the trauma of eating something that has hidden ingredients and the consequences of that potentially deadly error.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many great hidden gems in Los Angeles! We would have to schedule a little bit of everything to fully understand the depth and scope of all that LA has to offer!
Of course we start our day at à bloc on our bikes! We fill up on coffee and toss in a few snacks for our ride. We then head out on our road bikes and ride up through Big Tujunga up into the Angeles Crest and eventually find ourselves at the Mt. Wilson Observatory where we would refill on water, grab a cold, cold can of Coke and enjoy a chili dog and fries at the Cosmic Café. Everything taste so good, especially after a grueling ride up on your bike. Then we hit our favorite Thai Restaurant in Burbank called Summer Buffalo.
Recovery Day. We stay off our bikes and wander the streets of Highland Park. Especially on weekends, York Blvd is bustling with activity! First stop is our neighbor on Figueora, Kindness and Mischief Then we would head over to Belle’s Bagels for breakfast and eat our breakfast on one of the benches that have popped up along our street. Walking up and down York is a fun way to see all of the new restaurants and retail shops. After working up an appetite, we would head over to Joy on York and grab Dan Dan Noodles, woodear mushrooms, Mapo Tofu and Jidori Chicken. Everything we have ever eaten there has been spectacular! Joy is our staff’s pick anytime we bring food into the café for meetings or staff appreciation.
We can’t forget to stop next door to us and have our friends shop at Dotter. A boutique store that has all kinds of handcrafted and beautiful knick knacks and clothes. For dinner, we would hop over to the Little Beast in Eagle Rock. They have the cutest patio area and their staff are so nice and the food pretty amazing. They have a nice wine menu and their brussel sprouts are a must.
Day 3: We are back on our bikes, but this time we are on Mountain bikes. We head over to the Santa Monica mountains and hit the Backbone trail. So fun, so hard, but more importantly we burn enough calories to throw caution to the wind when we head over to Pedaler’s Fork in Calabasas, who also roasts our 10 speed coffee
Day 4: We are staying local again. This time we are hitting up all of the awesome food trucks that pop up along York Blvd. (Is it obvious that we are so lucky we don’t have to travel far to enjoy so much of LA?) We have to hit the new Hawaiian Pop-up Gary & Sons, Rebel Mac and Cheese, and Wolfies for some Nashville style chicken wings. If we are lucky, we will be able to place an order at Bang Bang Noodles for some amazing Chinese style Street noods.
Day 5: We are laying low today, too stuffed to get dressed up and too lazy to venture far. However, we will roll out of bed around noon and hit Roma Market in Pasadena to grab their Italian sub sandwiches. These babies are so delicious we usually buy at least 3 per person and at $5.50, they won’t break the bank.
I’m sure there are a ton more places we would love to hit, but since the pandemic, we’ve laid low and have probably forgotten some spots. We mostly hang out at grocery stores and ethnic marketplaces to grab ingredients and make huge salads and soups at home.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Terry and Deirdre of L34 Real Estate Group have been supportive of us from DAY 1. We would not have been able to do everything we needed to do without their support, encouragement, and belief in our dream. (Terry at one point donned an apron and volunteered as our barista when we needed help.)
Olsen Aviles, founder and owner of Roost Cyclery! To be completely transparent, Olsen repairs and maintain bikes out of our café, so we are a bit biased. HOWEVER, Olsen is one of the best bike mechanics we have ever had the pleasure of working with. We are consistently impressed with his bike repair skills and knowledge. More importantly, we admire his depth of character; he is very conscientious, honest, thorough and respectful towards every customer and every type of bike he works on. We do not hesitate for a second to refer anyone to him.
And last but certainly not least, all of our customers. They showed up every day, even during our darkest hours, they showed up during the pandemic, they showed up and supported us at every scary turn and every step of the way. They have become a part of our daily ritual and we adore them.
Danny Brown Aaron Smith