There’s a good chance that randomly mixing ingredients from the fridge into a specialty coffee drink would spell disaster for the taste buds, but that spirit of adventurous trial and error has been the source of success for Robert Lopez and his team of baristas at Collaborative Coffee Bar on the border of Lakewood and North Long Beach.

The shop has only been open for about two years—and was only open for indoor seating for about eight months until the pandemic hit—but its outrageously creative coffee drinks have already developed a loyal following.

Sure, it goes without saying that the crew at Collaborative Coffee Bar has created some duds that never made it into customers’ hands, but Lopez said the experiments that do stick are unique and keep people coming back for more.

The mad scientists Lopez employs behind the bartop have developed some signature drinks including:

  • Nutter Butter iced-only latte: espresso mixed with peanut butter and honey
  • Lucky Charms latte: espresso, Lucky Charms-infused oat milk with pieces of Lucky Charms cereal
  • Espresso tonic: Espresso and tonic water with citrus garnished with an orange peel over ice
  • Tiger latte: Espresso, Thai tea, condensed milk, choice of milk and topped with cacao powder

The caffeinated twists offer locals more than just corporate frappes, but not many know about Lakewood’s “hidden gem,” Lopez said.

Collaborative Coffee Bar’s menu. Photo by Sebastian Echeverry.

It’s easy for motorists zooming through the busy intersection of Del Amo and Paramount boulevards to miss the strip mall where the shop sits. If customers do happen to stumble across it, they are greeted with only one word above the entrance of the building: “Coffee.”

But inside, the ambiance is different, featuring millennial plant-parent vibes.

The shop is laid out in a way that gives customers a homey, woodsy feel with the interior sporting leather couches, shared wooden table tops, potted plants and dim LED lights. Lopez wanted the inside of his shop to have a dark interior and be filled with green foliage to mimic coffee shops typically found in Portland or Seattle.

“You want to come to this place to hang out and chill,” Lopez said.

Robert Lopez, owner of Collaborative Coffee Bar, sits on the store’s outdoor patio on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Photo by Sebastian Echeverry.

As the name suggests, the shop collaborates with other small businesses to offer them a place to sell their products to customers already sipping on coffee inside. Recently, Lopez hosted a summer day market on the makeshift outdoor patio in the strip mall’s parking lot. People sold clothing, plants, artwork and food. Lopez also opens his doors to local roasters. Currently, the crew is hosting a Canadian brew and partners with local roasters to package Collab’s own coffee bean, the Agape Blend.

The shop recently started experimenting with breakfast foods to offer burritos, sandwiches, bagels and other pastries.

Lopez is the son of Mexican parents and a proud Latino entrepreneur who dreamed about running his own specialty cafe since he was 25. His passion for coffee mixing started when he worked for a small coffee shop inside a Nordstrom in Cerritos. Now, at age 30, Lopez has made his dream a reality thanks to support from his father, who partnered with him to get his business off the ground.

The shop officially opened in June of 2019. Fast-forward eight months and Lopez found himself among the millions of small business owners worldwide who had to reconstruct their livelihoods from the ground up to withstand the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert Lopez prepares an iced latte at Collaborative Coffee Bar on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Photo by Sebastian Echeverry.

People could no longer sit indoors to enjoy a cup of coffee with friends and family, which struck a blow at the heart of his business model.

“We basically had to learn how to adapt our business to just running it as a to-go specialty coffee shop,” Lopez said. “That was pretty tough because, again, people come to coffee shops to sit down.”

As his small business moved into unknown territory, Lopez said it was the support of a local base of caffeinated regulars that kept him afloat.

Lopez prides himself in opening and sustaining a coffee shop in an area between North Long Beach and Lakewood that has lacked similar cafes.

“I think we survived because of the support of our community here,” Lopez said. “We had a bunch of people just coming to support, buying a bunch of stuff all the time to keep us afloat.”

The fanatic support for Collab can also be seen as a testament to the desire for more localized coffee shops some residents in North Long Beach have long been clamoring for. Collab can easily be compared to Black Ring Coffee Roasters, which is a little over two miles to the west on Long Beach Boulevard. Aside from Black Ring, Collab virtually stands alone in the northern portion of Long Beach.

“I feel like this area, pretty much the north end of Long Beach and then Lakewood, is kind of forgotten,” Lopez said. “I feel like exposure on this end of the town for everyone would be great.”

Collaborative Coffee Bar at 4836 Paramount Blvd. is open Monday through Saturday. On Monday hours are from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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