A community built on coffee is the latest casualty of a changing Westside

By Jessica Koslow

Photo by Marina Martin

For some, it’s a coffee shop. For others, it’s a bar or a deli. That place in your neighborhood you’ve come to rely on, sometimes even visit every day. “Where everybody knows your name.”

One such place was Abbot’s Habit on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which closed this past summer. After 24 years, the café could not afford to pay a rent increase as Venice property continued to soar.

Abbot’s Habit was my father-in-law’s favorite hangout, where he went each day to buy a cup of coffee he could have easily made at home and chat with his friends (also locals, some retired like himself) and others who set up their “office” at Abbot’s. When the owners announced it was closing, I remember teasing him: “Where will you while away the hours? Where will you go?”

This is not a new story. It’s become quite a common affair on the Westside.

Now another neighborhood institution — this one 30 years in the making — is getting the boot.

It’s Monday morning, Nov. 27, and the crowd at Joni’s Coffee Roasting Café is animated as usual —except these smiles will soon give way to sighs. This is their last breakfast at their favorite place. The restaurant in the strip mall on Washington Boulevard, next to Noah’s Bagels, is closing its doors for good at 3 p.m.

“I am so devastated!” owner Julie Jungwirth texts me the day before. “This is not fair. The landlord would not renew our lease.”

On Nov. 22, Jungwirth posted a letter at the café, alerting customers of this unexpected turn of events.

The letter assured Joni’s faithful fans that this was not goodbye.

“This isn’t the end of Joni’s Coffee. On the contrary, we are NOT going out of business and will continue looking for a new Marina del Rey/Westside location to start fresh,” Jungwirth wrote. In italics, the last paragraph reads: “ALSO: We will be selling Joni’s Coffee online …”


The Saturday before Joni’s closed, Sam Medina was brewing coffee behind the counter as he had been since 1991. He looked around, surveying the familiar scene.

“It’s like family,” he says.

Susan Casey, a 20-year customer in earshot of Sam’s comment, agrees. She’s built a community of friends who have encouraged her over the years to keep writing and cheered her when her book was published. About 10 years ago, Casey joined a rowing club in the marina after discovering and chatting up the group, which met at Joni’s in the mornings after its workouts.

“I always found someone to talk to,” she says, mourning the closing of Joni’s doors.

On this same Saturday, Andy Barber, a customer since the very week the café opened in 1986 or ’87, had also spent a good part of his morning at Joni’s, looking at the cafe’s restaurant equipment. He’s semi-retired now, but works as a repairman on the side and has helped maintain Joni’s equipment over the years.

Barber remembers the joy he felt when the café first opened because there was finally a good cup of coffee available in the neighborhood.

“This was years before Starbucks was popular,” he says. “It was an instant hit. There was a line out the door. At first, it was not a restaurant. They only sold sandwiches and muffins.”

Then, as Barber tells it, the place doubled in size and took on the name Coffee Roasters. Next, Joni Aragon bought it, improving the food and adding her name to the title. Under her ownership, the eatery flourished.

When Julie and Jim Jungwirth, both realtors and locals in the area since 1974, bought Joni’s in August 2010, the couple was committed to maintaining an atmosphere where fun-loving locals could socialize.

“We kept every employee when we bought it and 8/9 of them are still here,” wrote Jungwirth, adding “with a few of them working here over 15 years.”

Customers quickly grew to love Jungwirth, who, in return, showered them
with love.

“Julie throws a Christmas party for the regulars, with dinner, coffee and wine,” boasts Casey, who has attended for the past four years.

Jungwirth has hosted a holiday party at Joni’s since 2010.

Barber works at home and heads out to Joni’s once a day to meet up with the friends he’s made at the cafe.

“It’s a comfortable place,” he says. “You can sit outside and relax. It’s like a modern speakeasy. Lately we’ve all been exchanging phone numbers. We never had to do that.”


For 22 years, Gino Cirignano and his wife have considered Joni’s like a second home.

“You get your own silverware, and make yourself at home,” he says.

About 10 years ago, when Aragon still owned the restaurant, she added the “Gino’s Scrambler” to the menu.

“I created my own mix,” Cirignano explains “Tomatoes, mushrooms, jack cheese and avocado with three scrambled eggs, potatoes and seven-grain toast — with a large coffee.”

What Cirignano loves most about Joni’s is that they roast the coffee beans on site and brew coffee by the cup.

It’s a pretty unanimous opinion that the coffee at Joni’s is a big draw.

Geoffrey Titus, a manager at Joni’s for almost seven years, explains that the cast iron coffee roaster was built in Germany in 1950, and it’s just one of only a few like it still working in the whole world. He says Medina roasts two 50-pound batches twice a week.

Barbara Walker and her husband Marv have been eating at Joni’s about as long as it has been in existence.

“It’s like a comfortable shoe,” she shares, “homey, cozy, not formal. People talk to strangers. You can bring your dog, they don’t rush you and they remember your name — the things that are important.”

Jungwirth shares that, in addition to people, Joni’s has about 100 regular dog customers. One of the managers makes sure to give each dog a cookie when they arrive.

And no matter how many dogs are eating outside, Jungwirth insists, there’s never a fuss or fight.

Every moment that Jungwirth has owned Joni’s has been memorable.

“Seven years and eight months,” she recalls. “I am heartbroken for the employees. I’m saddened for the loyal local people who have lost their place. It was theirs as much as ours. The employees, locals and customers made it what it became: an icon in the marina, with great coffee, great quality food and the ambiance of the customers who visited — some daily.”

But, Jungwirth continues: “The marina is moving away from the mama and papa restaurants, and franchises are coming in.”

 


It’s Monday, Nov. 27, just after 5 p.m. A few people are still sitting inside Joni’s, chatting. That includes Jungwirth. It’s been a hectic day of running around, and she’s just now arriving at the restaurant to say her goodbyes. In three days, the space will be empty, with
For Lease signs plastered on the windows. Just like in the space next door, just to the east of Joni’s.

Jungwirth loves the Westside. Before Joni’s, she and her husband owned Big Dean’s Ocean Front Café, located across from the Santa Monica Pier, for 16 years. She assures me they’ll be coming back, better and stronger.

“Until we meet again,” Julie and Jim Jungwirth sign their farewell letter posted on Joni’s door.

Interact with Joni’s alumni at the new Friends of Joni’s Coffee Roasting Café page on Facebook.

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