The Story Behind Civil Coffee at the Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge
Alan and Alex Morales fell into the coffee business by accident. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and raised in the Valley, they were both studying at Pasadena City College when Alan had what he describes as a “transformative” espresso made with beans from Mexico at the Intelligentsia coffee shop near the PCC campus.
“My parents made massive breakfasts, and oftentimes we had coffee with it,” Alan recalls. “They’d boil milk in a saucepan and put Folgers in it, like a brewed latte. So when Intelligentsia came to town, I wondered what was so special about it. It was a spiritual moment, that espresso. My mind was blown, and it sparked my curiosity.”
He started tasting all kinds of coffee, participating in barista workshops, and learning the skills required to make a masterful cup. It wasn’t long before Alex joined him. The brothers started helming pop-ups around town, procuring beans from established roasters such as Stumptown and of course Intelligentsia—both are among brands credited with elevating coffee quality in the early aughts. Eventually the brothers built a coffee cart that they’d haul around in a bright red, early-’80s Toyota pickup outfitted with a lift gate.
“We were nomads,” Alex said. “We did farmers markets, the Melrose Trading Post, then Coachella in 2015. That was a game changer.”
Their mettle was tested at the festival; they conquered the crowds and came home with some significant cash. More confident than ever, the duo started searching for a brick-and-mortar location. They found one in Highland Park—a 1920s building that once housed a dress shop. The outpost opened in 2015.
“We wanted to build a business with good coffee by default and hospitality at the forefront. Hence the name ‘Civil’—to be courteous, to be kind,” Alex explains.
The brothers expanded in 2022, opening locations in downtown LA and in Studio City at Sportsmen’s Lodge, where they serve specialty coffee and eats reflective of their personal stories and tastes.
The Studio City menu includes chilaquiles served with a house-made sauce that incorporates rustic spices like chile ancho and chile guajillo from Chihuahua. The breakfast burritos are made with tortillas from the highly touted Tortillas Mejorado in Boyle Heights. Alex recommends the chorizo burrito (they mix the beef chorizo in-house) with a dash of maple syrup. Giant chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies are made fresh in the shop. For drinks, The Figueroa is a favorite, a mix of sweet condensed milk, espresso and cinnamon, served with a Maria cookie.
“The Maria cookie is a staple in Latin America,” Alex says. “It’s a biscuit with a nice crunch. Our mom would drizzle condensed milk on it and give it to us as a snack. It’s a nod to that, and to the culture. We love when memory connects with flavor.”
“We did farmers markets, the Melrose Trading Post, then Coachella in 2015. That was a game changer.”
The brothers don’t aim to become a large chain operation. Ten storefronts around LA would suit them fine. Their focus right now is on building up their coffee program from Mexico, connecting with farmers there, and highlighting the flavor profiles of Mexican coffee beans.
“A lot of Latinos are in coffee, but they’re farmers,” Alex says. “Not many of them brew and drink the wonderful coffee they’re farming. At a roasting and retail level, we are a minority. Now it’s time to showcase the coffee that Mexico has to offer.”