Michelle: My name is Michelle Akhtarzad and I’m the brand director for LA-based coffee and tea shops, Alfred. Before I landed at Alfred, I moved to Texas to study at the University of Texas at Austin and graduated with a degree in Textiles and Consumer Sciences. During my time in Austin, I worked for a number of different brands. One company in particular where I gained much experience was MMH, or McGuire Moorman Hospitality. Under the leadership of the creative director of this prominent restaurant and retail group, I learned what makes a food & beverage space unique, and all of the little details that help make it stand out. Besides working on sourcing fabrics, uniforms, and music, I took over their social media sector to convey each detail that made their spaces special, whether that was design, food, music, or events. The job was very influential, and a nice marriage of food and design for me.
After moving back to LA in 2017, I worked at Garrett Leight California Optical on the PR team. However, I felt that I wanted to dive into something even more creatively challenging, like my time at MMH. At this point, my brother Josh, had 7 Alfred cafes open and was hoping for me to come join him in helping to expand Alfred, not only with more brick and mortar locations, but also as a stronger brand. Reluctant at first to work with family, I took a leap and joined him in January 2018. After joining I slowly gained more authority on the branding and design of different elements within the company and eventually carved out my role as Brand Director. It’s now been two years and 8 locations later and I’m still excited by the thrilling challenges of creating and maintaining a strong brand presence for Alfred in Los Angeles and beyond!
Josh: I’m an LA-native, born in West LA. After bouncing to a couple local schools while growing up, I ended up at The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks for high school. From there, I was accepted to Yale for college, so I packed up and headed for the East Coast. Once I moved back to LA at 20 years old, degree in hand, I got the job of a lifetime working for John Anderson at his hedge fund, Kayne Anderson. My first year there I worked in partnership accounting, and by the second year I was on the trading desk, doing many of the personal trades for Mr. Anderson himself. During my time on the trading desk, I felt the urge to go back to school. Given that many of my fellow colleagues at Kayne Anderson were UCLA Anderson graduates and the allure of attending UCLA had never escaped me, I decided to apply to UCLA Anderson and was accepted.
In 2005, I showed up to Anderson the second youngest in my class, and although I felt a bit insecure because of my age and relative lack of experience, I was thrilled to be a part of the UCLA family. In 2006 I graduated with my MBA in Real Estate and Finance.
After UCLA, I went to work where I thought I’d always eventually end up – working in real estate with my family at their boutique firm, The NASA Group. There I was part of a dynamic, small shop where I had my hands in everything from finance, design, architecture, leasing and management. We operated primarily in West Hollywood doing high end commercial real estate, so as part of the job I got to rub shoulders with best-in-class brands and designers – which added a sense of excitement and sensibility to the job.
About a year into it however, I grew disillusioned working with the family, so I ended up leaving my post and moving to Dallas on a whim where a good friend of mine from LA lived at the time. After searching for a plan in Dallas, my friend and I launched a music, fashion and photography blog, before blogs were cool of course. We started monetizing the site by throwing parties in Dallas and Austin, and at our largest point we had 8 individuals in different cities blogging for us.
When blogging, I spent most of my time at a Dallas coffee shop called Crooked Tree Café – a really cute place, with mismatched furniture that may or may not have been picked up on the side of the road. The coffee was subpar, but the community element was everything and everyone was super friendly. And that struck a chord with me. Concurrently, a friend had introduced me to famed interior designer, Laura Hunt, an AD100 designer at the time. With her, I worked on a few large residential projects and had my hand in various facets of the business, but what stood out to me the most was decoration and spatial planning.
I didn’t realize it in the moment, but my time in Dallas had stirred a creative spirit and confidence I had never explored before. Up until then, my studies and career had always been so pegged towards an eventual future in real estate – but being free from the pressures and expectations of life back home had really opened my eyes.
Back in LA 2 and a half years later in 2010 and now 28 years old, I went back into real estate but it didn’t take long until I decided it was time to take a leap. I tossed around many concepts in my head, big and small. I was constantly looking around to find something that inspired me creatively and that I could call my own. And then, I got it. I was going to open a coffee shop!
Why coffee, you may ask. Well, great question!
Firstly, there was a distinct need. With the introduction of third wave coffee came a strong focus on the origins of the coffee itself, and artisanal brewing methods. At the time that I hatched the idea for Alfred in 2012, third wave coffee was booming all around me with no signs of slowing – however I had found that at most of these third wave coffee shops the totality of emphasis on the craft of coffee left much to be desired when it came to the physical customer experience. So, I asked myself: What if I could channel my creativity and sense of style to create a vibey third wave coffee shop – a place that you’d come to for the coffee but would stay for the ambience?
What was the music that played when you walked in, what art was hung on the walls, and how were you were greeted at the register when you walked up? Well at the time I was living on this quaint, tree-lined street Melrose Place where you had the biggest names in fashion but unless you had $2,000 to drop on a purse or a dress, you had no reason to be on the street and enjoy its natural charm. Not to mention, they had a legendary Sunday Farmer’s Market. So I looked and looked, and finally found a funky shaped and mostly subterranean space that was perfectly imperfect and suited for my needs…
Secondly, I had this design itch. From my time working in Dallas under interior designer Laura Hunt, I felt this need to create something of my own. Now, Melrose Place had a very cozy, neighborhood feel, and I would carry that over into the design of my new coffee shop. I decided on reclaimed, rustic hardwood floors, subway tile, and floral wallpaper like you’re in your cool grandmas kitchen. And boom – in January 2013 Alfred Coffee Melrose Place opened!