Shi Jun Ng, 33, may have the perfect moniker for her business. “Shi is ‘poetic’ and Jun is ‘strong,’ so I’m supposed to be, like, poetic but strong,” Ng said. Judge for yourself at her specialty coffee house The Assembly at 634 N. Robertson Blvd. With long dark hair, a radiant complexion and a friendly, open air, Ng injects the word “social” into social entrepreneur. “I wanted to create a modern day French salon,” a place where people converse, make friends and create community.
With sleek Scandinavian design, blonde wood and stark white floors, Ng has the “modern” part down. Take a seat on the sun bench in the front window, at one of her all-white tables and chairs, or on the modest back patio accented with potted plants. Go ahead and sip your non-fat, no-foam latte while scribbling into one of the stationery items you just purchased. Across from the barista station is a mini Papyrus offering blank journals, greeting cards and organizer-type folios.
Chinese, Ng grew up in Singapore. She moved to America 15 years ago and worked in advertising for seven years. “I was in an industry that was just in the business of selling things without any real meaning. You know, purpose,” Ng said. But coffee’s aroma seduced her, so she began to learn the café business while being a barista at Santa Monica’s Demitasse. She even considered opening The Assembly on the Westside but felt the market was saturated with gourmet coffee places. WeHo beckoned.
Living in Westwood with her girlfriend Adair (recently engaged, they plan to marry in 2018), family is important to Ng and definitely influenced her career path. “When I told my dad I first wanted a coffee shop he was very excited,” she said. Her grandfather ran a general store and coffee place while she grew up. “I remember seeing an entire community hang out there all day. And that stuck with me.”
Ng also is social when selecting vendors. “When I set out to create this space I wanted to be sure it was in line with serving or giving back,” she said. Her pastry and coffee “partners” need to meet certain criteria: “I make sure they are socially, ethically and/or environmentally responsible.” She’s even researched her water vendor to ensure her standards are met.
WeHo is not just a commercial location to her. “People always think, ‘Oh, WeHo is where people shop. It’s high-end retail. Fashion’,” Ng said. “But I’ve come to realize [residents] support local businesses … It’s the regulars that we have. There’s a real neighborhood here.”
Word of mouth is Ng’s main marketing tactic, along with now-and-again mailed coupons, to stimulate foot traffic. “It works!” she said. However, the L.A. LGBT Center is important to her and she may participate in their upcoming Simply Divine food-related fundraiser. Events supporting “female-owned businesses,” as well as in-store workshops, are brewing.
What is Ng’s advice about starting your own business? “Simplify your vision. Focus on an idea. Do the research to make sure it’s solid. And then if you still believe in it, you should do it,” she said. You may as well order a cup of her caffeinated courage as you listen. You want her to support your business, too, as that truly would be poetic. Oh, and strong.
634 N Robertson Blvd