by Brian Addison
Ten years ago—almost to the day—I strolled up to what would soon be commonly known as Berlin on 4th Street. It was nearly four in the morning. Pitch black. Its doors had never been opened before and I held the responsibility of welcoming its first guests.
People thought its owner Kerstin Kansteiner and neighboring Fingerprints owner Rand Foster were, frankly put, out of their mind for investing in an area in Downtown. And I, as some wide-eyed, highly-opinionated twenty-something, had very high hopes for the space.
I particularly wanted it to reflect the specialty coffee scene: With names like Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle growing, along with more local roasters taking in on the action, I was hoping Berlin could reflect that—and, much to my ear-to-ear grin, it has, now hosting Stumptown as its house bean for at least the past couple years.
But Kerstin—longtime Long Beach resident by way of Germany and the woman who held me through my post-grad life with work at Portfolio, her first and most well-known business along Retro Row—well, she wanted more.
She expressed this quietly while Berlin was being constructed but her inner business sense didn't make it loud: While we ventured everywhere from L.A. to San Francisco, looking at design and offerings to provide something new, there were only subtle hints said aloud as to what Kerstin really wanted to achieve.
Or, perhaps, I and others simply weren't listening enough.
There was something Kerstin always repeated after every brain session and every visit to yet another another coffeeshop: "I just don't know if people understand what I want. I want a bistro. Not just a cafe. I want the spaces I remember from home."
What so many didn't get at the time is that Kerstin didn't want another Portfolio—though that is precisely what people were expecting of her. She wanted a restaurant—but one the that didn't succumb to a staple menu or expectations. She wanted what she missed in Europe: Quality food from a place you happened to stroll by. Food driven by the season, not demand. A space that was by no means somewhere which sought a Michelin star but she also didn't want yet another a place where someone mounted their laptop for hours on end in search of free, caffeinated refills.
Kerstin found herself in a conundrum: She wanted more than what she was known for—the coffeeshop—but she found herself unable to battle her own patronage out of respect. People expect and return to familiarity.
Then, as we all know too well, a pandemic hit. And she saw it as a sign to finally achieve what she sought all along.