One of the common threads in the backstories of the businesses on Melrose is the sacrifice and commitment that fuels the owners. The Toasted & Roasted story is no different; owners Mike Khorosh and Ali Dickison paid their dues to the hospitality industry for the opportunity to serve some of the most excellent coffee and food in Los Angeles.
Mike is East Coast born and bred from Rockland County, NY. His family is from Russia, and meals were an integral part of connecting with and enjoying each other. With grandparents living in the house, he learned that food could bring people together and strengthen relationships. Around age 5, he was making cookies. “I’d pretend I was on a cooking show. My parents would tape it and pretend to interview me while I was baking,” Mike recalls. “I had a passion and appreciation for food, and learned the satisfaction of preparing it for other people.”
He got into the hospitality industry at 15, working at a local Italian restaurant called Café Dolce. “This was my first exposure to coffee, espresso, and pulling shots.” He’d help make sandwiches and salads, and experiment with more involved dishes. The plan was to work in the restaurant for a year after graduating high school to save money for college. “But I realized I wanted to stay in the restaurant business,” Mike remembers.
With his boss’s referral, he started work as a server at the Hackensack, NJ Morton’s The Steakhouse. Only two months later, he was elevated to backup Food and Beverage Controller. By his 21st birthday, Mike had earned a management role at the White Plains location he helped open. By 2008, he was an assistant manager in Brooklyn. And by 2010 promoted to the prestigious 5th Avenue location, before transferring to his OG Morton’s in Hackensack as GM.
“I could have stayed there for 30 years,” Mike said, but Morton’s was sold and everyone he considered family left. He jumped around various companies (“It was a strange time for me”) until landing at the New York Yankees Steakhouse in Rockefeller Center. What could have been a solid situation had no growth potential, but it opened the door to a life on the West Coast.
We need to back up just a bit to introduce Ali Dickison. In 2013, when Mike was AGM at Rare Bar & Grill in NYC, Ali came in, met Mike, and gave him her number. “Obviously I called her!” She was from Pennsylvania, and moved to New York to pursue acting. She was also in the hospitality industry with the Hillstone Restaurant Group.
Mike proposed to Ali on the tarmac before taking off for SoCal (“The best decision of my life,” he says.) He was about to start a career as a manager with Dave & Buster’s in Irvine and she would transfer to Hillstone in Santa Monica. They would marry in 2015.
Ultimately, a casual concept restaurant was not a match for Mike, and he wondered if “maybe now is the time and California is the opportunity.” Ali’s passion is to be an actor, but she was willing to play a supportive role in starting a business of their own.
“I wanted a full-service restaurant and Ali wanted nothing to do with that,” Mike laughs. With a fine dining background, sommelier certification, and pro-coffee attitude honed in the hospitality industry, an elevated coffee shop was an avenue that would work for both of them. “We’re going to be roasters, not just a coffee shop,” he asserts.
“Knowing what I know now, I knew virtually nothing,” Mike recalls. For nearly nine months, he did market research, networked in the industry, and learned how to roast from coffee gurus. He was putting in 12-hour shifts in Irvine while spending every free minute on the coffee shop.
After looking all over L.A. from Playa Vista to Hollywood, the owner of the space at 7311 Melrose was willing to take a chance on the entrepreneurial roasters. “We got a whole bunch of credit cards to get it open…put everything on the line. People have this perception that there’s money behind us, but it’s just my wife and me.”
Build-out was rocky, as it tends to be, but with support from the Melrose BID and West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Toasted & Roasted opened in February, 2017.
While Mike is on a continual quest to learn all about it, he hired “people way more intelligent and experienced than us in coffee.” He also brought in Chef Isaac, whom he has known since Morton’s in Brooklyn. “He’s the first person I called. Wherever I am, I’m going to have him by my side.”
The Toasted & Roasted team, as a result, offers an nth level café experience. There are multiple extraction (brewing) options: batch brew for the rotating daily selection, pour over which offers clarity of cup to pick up flavor nuances, full immersion for bold coffee flavor, siphon, and the Steampunk. The Steampunk has to be seen to be believed: a computer-automated siphon that can be dialed in to brew every coffee perfectly. “Changing the temperature of the water even one degree makes a noticeable difference,” Mike asserts. There’s also espresso, and cold brew two ways including the 17-hour slow drip Kyoto style.
Coffees from 14 different countries are represented on the menu, and all are direct trade with traceability to farms. Small amounts of expensive lots, like “Geisha” from Panama are special treats.
Additionally, there is locally-sourced kombucha on tap (a neighborhood favorite) and handmade tea from a maker in Minnesota. Cold brews and kombucha are available to go in growlers.
Chef Isaac’s menu is the talk of Melrose. Seasonal salads and sandwiches are healthy and organic, but sweet and savory stuffed waffles (“waffle puffs”) are a highlight. The “California Dreamin’” includes avocado, kale, grape tomatoes, and cheddar cheese and the “Lower East Side” is applewood smoked bacon, scrambled eggs, and melted mild cheddar. There are fresh-baked muffins and pastries as well as the chef’s famous banana bread with cream cheese frosting.
The exceptional quality and service has been noticed. Reviews are stellar. The neighborhood is on board. “The Melrose community has embraced us so phenomenally. I know them by name!” says Mike.
Part of that fast connection is the environment at Toasted & Roasted. “Melrose is what we are. We can get very geeky about coffee, but we have no pretentiousness whatsoever. You can be whatever you want to be on Melrose.”
Playing into that ethos, the shop hosts comedy open mics every Wednesday and Friday from 6-8p. Hosting a warm, friendly environment is paramount for Mike and Ali. The two hospitality veterans are committed to “bringing community together in the space we created here.”
TOASTED AND ROASTED
7311 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles 90046
Monday – Sunday 7a-8p : kitchen closes at 7p