UnUrban Coffee House Aims to Improve the Lives of Santa Monica's Residents

While navigating Santa Monica’s traffic-filled streets, one may be too focused on avoiding a fender bender to notice UnUrban Coffee House on the corner of Pico Blvd and Urban Ave. However, this shop has acted as a hub for community and caffeine since its doors opened in 1995.

Since its establishment over 20 years ago, Pamela Stollings has been UnUrban’s acting manager, and the café has never changed locations. Stollings notes that since the beginning, her goal has been to create a safe haven for the community within the walls of UnUrban.

Beginning with holding live music and open mics, the space has since hosted a variety of events, including quinceñeras, flamenco nights and activist meetup groups.

“I wanted to have a spot [in Los Angeles] where it’s not such a transient big city, where there’s a little bit of community, and I feel like you’ve got to give something back to your community,” said Stollings.

UnUrban is Stollings’ way of contributing a space of wellness and comfort to her community, not only through public events but also through quality food. UnUrban became an entirely organic establishment on Jan.1, using only organic ingredients in all beverages and food. Additionally, the water is now filtered through reverse osmosis with the intention of removing any fluoride. The decision to go entirely organic was a collaborative effort by both Stollings and UnUrban’s other owner, Sam Mala.

“We are both organic in our food, and…it’s funny, we’re the opposite of the big places that tell you, ‘we’re organic!’” said Stollings. “You know, I didn’t want to push my lifestyle on anybody, but…as a business owner, I don’t want to support that, the GMOs…So we’d just decided that our biggest passion was organic food, and sharing it and educating people how food is medicine.”

For Mala, it was his own health struggles that ignited his passion for organic living. Food became his passion after he saw how it healed him. While he initially attempted various methods of dieting, he came to take on a more organic lifestyle which he attributes to his current well-being.

In an effort to provide full transparency and offer customers the ability to purchase organic ingredients for their own homes, UnUrban displays and sells all of the ingredients that they use in their products. Stollings and Mala both agree that organic food does not have to be expensive. They aim to show people that choosing the option that better benefits the body does not have to leave one with empty pockets.

UnUrban hosts community jam nights every first Thursday of the month, open mic nights on Fridays, music showcases on Saturday nights and a variety of other opportunities for the community to present their creative projects.

“They would be the first to rally around any kind of community, any cause,” said customer Doug Knoblauch. “They’re very community-oriented.”

The owners have big ambitions for the future. They include, but are not limited to, establishing their own farm, creating a non-profit, and taking over the entire building they are currently located in to establish a wellness center. Additionally, while they already create all of their own dairy-free milks and nut butters, they recently added refrigerators into their store and are planning on selling their house-made products to customers. They are currently in the process of incorporating a marketplace to expand the café and community hangout.

“People have been healing through the food…I know people come in and they don’t feel so good and then they start eating here and then they feel better, their look changes,” Mala said. “People have been thanking us for doing what we’re doing, so that’s also made us feel good about what we’re doing.