For a new place to eat, discover the Bookmark Cafe nestled in the central courtyard at the Santa Monica Public Library’s Main Branch. Invisible from the street, the cafe is at the heart of the library complex, serving breakfast, lunch, and various forms of caffeine to patrons and passers-by.
Sangwoo “Sean” Chu and his wife Nana Murata took over the cafe in March 2017. Previously, Sangwoo worked in aviation management in Seattle. In their free time, the couple loved driving down the coast to Santa Monica, where they dreamed of opening a cafe after Nana graduated from college. In 2016, they finally made their dream a reality. Owning the cafe has allowed Nana to achieve her dream of living in the United States and running a challenging business, as well as supporting the Santa Monica community.
It’s obvious from the minute you meet Sangwoo and Nana that they care deeply about their customers. According to Sangwoo, more than 50% of their customers are regulars. He appreciates that they seek out the cafe because “they like the energy they feel whenever they come here.”
The couple continues to adapt the menu based on customer feedback. Their bulgogi bowls have proved a popular addition to salads, soups, paninis, and ice cream. They also take pride in making their food from scratch, and Sangwoo happily points out how much the cafe’s Yelp and Google reviews have improved since they took over the space.
Like the city itself, the cafe faces the challenge of the homeless population who spend their days at the library. Sangwoo struggles to balance his desire to help individuals with his need to sustain the business. “I want to help them,” he says, “but in this building we cannot do that.” Instead, Sangwoo and Nana volunteer their time and donate food on the weekends in downtown L.A.
Thanks to the couple’s care, the Bookmark Cafe is thriving. Though the cafe is still a hidden gem – after three years, he still gets comments from locals surprised to learn there’s a cafe in the library – Sangwoo is working on improving their marketing. They collaborate with the library and the Santa Monica History Museum who share the complex, offer lunch discounts to the employees of local businesses, and are bookmarking ideas for the future with their trademark verve.
The Bookmark Cafe is at 601 Santa Monica Blvd., inside the Main Library. Take the coupon on the top right of this page to get a free cup of iced or hot coffee with your order.
By Anne Wallentine