Behind the Counter with Anya Michelson and Family of Paper or Plastik Cafe
What did you do to celebrate Mother’s Day? Did you happen to find yourself on a restaurant patio, enjoying an eggs benedict, in the company of people you love? In Los Angeles, the brunch scene was in full swing — my mom and I were among the many holiday brunchers… both of us can’t resist a mimosa and creamy hollandaise sauce. Like mother like daughter, they say.
There are many family-run restaurants in Los Angeles, it’s one of my favorite aspects of this multifaceted city. When the host, the server, and the chef all grew up talking loudly and enjoying home-cooked meals around the same dinner table, the guests can feel and taste the difference. I frequently ask the same question to the chefs I interview: “What’s your secret to creating such delicious dishes?” The large majority of the time, their answers are all the same: “Love.”
Food that is “made with love” is always honest. It’s both given and received. It connects generations. It’s not something you can simply borrow and incorporate into your own menu. Often, the dishes that chefs describe most lovingly are the ones that their mothers or grandmothers passed down. Sometimes, this culinary matriarch is still cooking in the kitchen, right alongside them, transferring decades (even centuries) of savory knowledge. Sometimes, she’s captaining the front of the house. Bouncing from table to table in the dining room or at the bar, turning walk-ins into regulars, and regulars into her closest friends — building a family much bigger than her own lineage.
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Paper or Plastik Cafe
When I first met Anya Michelson, she was bringing a latte out to a guest on the patio. A minute later she was behind the counter with her barista. The next, she was sitting down with a regular who had stopped by for an early afternoon cappuccino. Anya, her husband Yasha, and their daughter Marina founded Paper or Plastik together because they love the communal culture that blossoms from the roots of a cafe.
Marina describes the cafe as not just coffee, not just food. Something in between. The architecture breathes energy into the space. The smells from the kitchen warm your soul and relax you during a busy day. The ambiance of caffeinated conversations at each table bring you closer to the center of Paper or Plastik — which is about family.
After the Michelson family had owned Mimoda Studio for a time, Anya brought to attention the building next door. They had not found a cafe in Los Angeles that represented true cafe culture the way that it is savored in Europe. She encouraged the family to take a leap, to make a place that was a combination of everything they loved. Paper or Plastik combines art, architecture, music, locality, community, and (of course) really seriously delicious food. It is a true expression of their family.
We asked Anya to share with us what makes cafe culture so special to her, how she infuses it into her own life, and how special it is — as a mother — to work alongside the ones she loves.
Interview with Anya Michelson of Paper or Plastik
What is the cafe lifestyle? What does it mean to you to have a cafe where everyone can meet up and use daily as a commonplace?
PoP is a true neighborhood spot where most people (the customers the staff and the owners) know everybody’s names, as well as the names of their kids and pets. Many friendships and romantic relationships started at PoP and we get to witness those. A lot of student papers, novels, poetry, and scripts were written at PoP and we are proud and happy to realize that we provide emotional and physical sustenance to those creative individuals. When the holiday season comes, we get a lot of cards from our customers who have become our friends and family. The most precious ones are the picture cards drawn by our youngest customers, the children that have grown up in front of our eyes.
What do you love most about the culture of a cafe?
Cafe culture in LA is different from what I am used to back in Europe and the Middle East. What I really value about coffee shop culture is the aspect of the cafe being a meeting place for a lot of different people, with different backgrounds and stories, and seeing them interact while enjoying our coffee and food. It is tremendously satisfying to hear our customers’ compliments to the choices we make sourcing our coffee, food, wine, beer, and retail.
Why did you want to bring cafe culture to Los Angeles?
The cafe scene in Los Angeles is mostly seeing people glued to their computers with ears covered by headphones. While I understand, or at least am trying to understand, the need to treat the cafe as a workplace, to me it is something else. For me, a cafe is just as much about great coffee and food as it is about people watching, relaxing, enjoying the moment of plunging into the meditative state of here and now. I hope that we have managed to balance the workplace with the leisurely and hedonistic aspect of the coffee culture.
What is your favorite time of day at Paper or Plastik?
My favorite time at PoP is at sunset when the beautiful afternoon light floods into our cafe through the huge windows, giving everything and everybody a warm, glowing hue. It looks very romantic and calm, even though we could be very busy at the moment.
What do you love most about owning a cafe with your family? What special talents do each of you contribute?
Working with my family first and foremost gives me a sense of security and trust. I know my bases are covered and hopefully I provide the same feeling to my partners. As a family we can teach each other and the staff some of our family values, which are kindness, honesty, and responsibility, among others. (laughs) Of course we get on each other’s nerves sometimes, but that’s a part of it!
You can visit Paper or Plastik Cafe from 7:00am to 10:00pm every day of the week. From Shakshuka & Griddled Polenta for breakfast to Forbidden Paella for dinner, you could come back each day and try something completely new. When it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, come check out PoP’s beer & wine program, which features a rotating selection of local draft brews. If you’re lucky enough to snag one, there are a few tables reserved for “no laptops” right in the front. Paper or Plastik encourages you to relax and enjoy their space for whatever length fits best into your day. So take a page from their book and take moment, take a breath, take a sip, and enjoy.
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