The co-owners who brought their New Zealand culture to the L.A. Scene
Two Guns Espresso's store front.
Andrew “Stan” Stanisich and Natalie Stanisich are co-owners of Two Guns Espresso, a New Zealand coffee shop with three locations in the Los Angeles area. With time, the coffee shops comfortable, friendly atmosphere, and not to mention the perfectly smooth, creamy Flat White, Two Guns has become an L.A. coffee hot spot with fast moving lines out the door every morning. When Stan and Natalie came to visit NYC, they stopped by BentoBox HQ, where we chatted with the New Zealanders about starting a business in the US, effectively capturing a brand, and thoughts on big coffee chains.
Warm Up Questions
What’s your coffee order?
Natalie: I’m actually more of a spicy chai with coconut milk. But, if I do order a coffee, it’s a flat white.
What exactly is a Flat White?
Stan: For some people it’s just a smaller latte. Higher ratio of espresso to milk with the micro foamed milk so that the texture is as you’d expect.
Two Guns Espresso's popular Flat White.
What’s the last thing you bought online?
Natalie: Pet food… chewies.com. We have two cats, Milton and Oscar.
Stan: I bought a stainless steel cone for the Chemex from Amazon.
What was your first job?
Natalie: working for my parents as a receptionist during the summer holidays [at their] ice cream factory.
Stan: Delivering the newspaper. A local paper in the area called The North Shore Advertiser. You delivered it on your pushbike and took about 1.5 hours to do the whole route.
What are the apps on the first screen of your phone?
Natalie: My phone is color coded, so the apps on each screen are put together by color. So all the blue apps are on the first screen on my phone. When you think about an app, what’s the first thing you think of? The color.
What was the last thing you cooked for yourself at home?
Natalie: It’s a bit of a favorite and from Bon Appétit. It’s a golden beetroot and ricotta pasta. You put a little bit of lemon juice, chopped herbs, toasted pistachio… although I used walnuts. Easy night time thing. Really delicious.
Stan: Scrambled eggs before the flight.
Two Guns Espresso's Natalie and Stan Stanisich.
When did you move from New Zealand to California?
Natalie: May 2009
Did you move to the states with the coffee shop in mind?
Stan: No, we had the chance to move [to the US], so we did. I was finishing my time with flying—I was a flight attendant with New Zealand for nearly 15 years. The idea of the coffee shop came about after the first year we were here [in the states] and it took 2 years to pull it altogether.
What was the biggest challenge in pulling it altogether?
Natalie: Probably finding the right location. There are so many factors that go into any type of restaurant space. In L.A., you want to make sure there’s parking and on the morning side for traffic—especially for a coffee shop. Far enough away from competitors, but not too far away that no one will visit. It had to be the right size and have a bit of character.
Stan: Yes, I think we thought that if we had a go and it all went belly up, it would bring the whole house down, so we started small. Take a small bite, see if you can do it, and you’ll learn a lot. But there were many challenges, especially from never having done business in the U.S. before.
Two Guns Espresso's side exterior.
What is the most important thing a business should be aware of when establishing a brand?
Natalie: I think the most important thing is to understand who you are and what your voice is. For us, our brand’s voice is friendly, approachable, and comfortable. We want to bring quality to people. It’s about staying true to your own look and feel.
Stan: The vision was “Make Your Day.” So in the cafe there’s a picture of Clint Eastwood that we had found before opening the shop. We sort of flipped it around from him going, “make my day” to, “let’s make your day.” So we just made it very simple. Really, when you’re serving food and coffee, you are probably the first point of contact people have in the morning. They might be going into a very tough personal situation, or a high powered meeting, or maybe they’re really sleepy. Whatever it is, it’s about making their day. It’s about getting that special something that makes someone go, ‘man I want to be apart of this’ when they walk in the door. The challenge is taking the essence of what you have as you scale up and maintaining it.
Clint Eastwood on the wall at Two Guns.
If you were to expand elsewhere—not in California—where would you go?
Natalie: It’s an interesting concept and something for us to think about.
Stan: There’s talk around Scottsdale, Arizona. Some people think our brand would go well in Texas. The other challenge is that when you start again in a new state, there are different legislations, different bylaws, etc. So it is like starting over again.
What are your thoughts on big coffee chains like Starbucks?
Stan: The store started the year I was born. So I look back and think about how impressive would it be to go from one store to being the most recognizable brand on the planet? That’s pretty phenomenal. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for due to Starbucks because it introduced the world to a certain type of coffee experience. But now they’re fighting to be more like us in some ways because a lot of their customers moved away from what they were offering. I think for us, we had to take people away from Peet's, Starbucks, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, to show them our way of doing things. So we are grateful for Starbucks in a lot of ways.