Arts & Life, Features

‘Without coffee, there’s nothing,’ CSULB students open family-owned coffee shop

On the corner of Fourth and Elm, Alex and Andrea Bonilla work tirelessly behind the wooden counter, darting around the kitchen like a well-choreographed dance. As Alex rings up a customer at the register, Andrea adds finishing touches to each coffee, tiny details meticulously arranged over the drink’s surface. 

A dash of orange zest. The slight toasting of mini marshmallows. A generous sprinkle of cinnamon and cardamom. 

Sunlight pours in through the coffee shop’s wide windows, illuminating the countertop like a spotlight. The star of the show? A steaming cup of Ground Hideout Coffee. 

The Bonilla siblings, both senior aerospace engineering students at Long Beach State, opened Ground Hideout Coffee with their family four months ago. Officially opening its doors last semester, Alex and Andrea juggled a six-course workload, research projects, rocket building and other extracurricular activities with the dawn of their family’s coffee shop.

“[We] just always had this, ‘we’re gonna do it [mentality],’” Alex said. “There’s no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts,’ just ‘We’re gonna do it.’ And I think that kinda helped [with the workload].”  

But Ground Hideout Coffee is far from a two-person show. According to Andrea, opening a coffee business was a family affair and had been a dream for the Bonilla family for as long as he could remember.

“Without coffee, there’s nothing,” Alex Bonilla Sr. said. “All of our family loves coffee. We grew up with coffee every day.” 

The Bonilla’s love for coffee didn’t originate in Long Beach, but rather 15 years prior and about 2,800 miles south. A 45-minute drive down a winding dirt road from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, stood rows and rows of coffee plants lined in perfect aisles stretching far and wide, as Alex and Andrea remember. 

Owned by their grandfather, that coffee plantation would be the destination for the Bonilla children’s Saturday family trips. 

“We would go to the plantation and we would just walk around and feel the plants [and] how they were growing [and] appreciate coffee more than just making it at home,” Alex said.

The Bonilla siblings remember snapshots of the coffee plantation in faded, sepia-toned memories— picking plump, red coffee cherries off the stems of the coffee plant; playing with the plantation workers’ children in the sticky Honduran humidity, stopping midday to sit in the grass and eat lunch. These memories clung onto the Bonilla siblings and informed their passion for the cups of coffee they serve daily at Ground Hideout. 

“We grew up loving coffee. I mean, I don’t think you should be having coffee as a kid, but when you’re left with your grandparents sometimes, they give in to you,” Andrea said with a smile.

But as gang activity and violence escalated in Honduras, the Bonilla family decided to leave their home country in 2004 in search of better opportunities in the United States.

“The principal idea [behind coming] here was for the education [of my children],” Alex Sr. said. “The [opportunity] to open our own business…that was essentially the post-goal. My country [had] a lot of crime, and [there weren’t] a lot of opportunities for [my children].” 

It wasn’t until a decade after the move that the Bonillas would kick their plan into gear in 2014. 

“My parents always wanted a business…” Andrea said. “My brother and I just saw how hard they worked and we didn’t want them to have that life anymore.”

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Andrea Bonilla pours steamed coffee over the orange latte at Ground Hideout Coffee, her family-owned business on Fourth and Elm in Downtown Long Beach.

Paula Kiley

Five years, several city permits and one big summer renovation later, Ground Hideout Coffee welcomed the Long Beach community through its doors for the first time September 2019.

Today, the Bonilla family operates Ground Hideout Coffee internally, rotating hours between the Bonilla siblings, their parents and Alex’s girlfriend, Chandler Frostad, who designed the store’s interior and brand elements.

“At one point you’re like, ‘This is a lot. Can I actually do this?’” Alex said. “But then I would just think about my parents and my family and my grandpa, because I know that he would want this to happen so that was kind of like a driving force to not give up.”

Ground Hideout Coffee is located at 356 E. Fourth Street and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prices start at $3.

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