Kerstin Kansteiner – Portfolio Coffee House + Berlin by Portfolio + Art Du Vin + Art Theater
Written by Lisa Khiev
If you’ve lived in Long Beach anytime in the past decade, there’s an absolute chance that you’ve visited the most popular coffee house on Retro Row. Portfolio’s Coffee House is located on 4th and Junipero, sitting in the heart of a busy street block and just minutes from the beach.
Have you ever wondered who’s behind this popular business front? Starts with a K and ends with a K – Kerstin Kansteiner.
There’s a rumor going around that you started “Retro Row”, have you heard this before?
Well, I’m honored, but that’s not quite the truth! The beauty of Retro Row is that it’s a community effort. Myself and another shop owner Kathleen from Meow were the first two businesses on Retro Row in the late 80s. All the other store fronts were boarded up, there were many people living there, but no other shops. And then a corner shop opened up, called Siren.
We decided to meet monthly, which turned into weekly to clean up the street. We would meet every Saturday, with a broom and trash in hand, drag it down the street and just clean, and that’s how we started. We then began meeting as business owners to share information, tips, grievances, and anything that made things easier for all of us. As soon as another shop opened, we would incorporate them and would hold our meetings at Portfolio’s and maybe that’s why there is that connection between me and Retro Row. In reality, it was a group effort, to make it a cleaner, better looking street and do business and share that with the neighborhood. I’ve always lived in the neighborhood and at the time, I was the president of the Historic Rose Park Neighborhood Association, so it kind of all fed into one another.
Portfolio coffee house… Can you tell us a bit more about its upbringing? Why a coffee shop and not a bar?
So, I was born in Germany, and I came here in 1989 for a six month internship. I spoke English, but I didn’t know anybody and I thought, “where do I go to meet people?” and in Europe, you go to coffee houses. It’s always at the center of town and it’s a good place to meet locals in a comfortable environment that doesn’t involve drinking alcohol. I thought I’d find the same thing here, I would ask people and they would say, “What? No. There are no coffee houses.” and I was like, “What!?” Where do I go? Do I go to a bar? Do I hang out at a restaurant? I was shocked. So, fast-forward a few years later, I’m still living here, I get married, and we thought we should do this, we should create a coffee house. We loved art, so it first opened as an art gallery serving coffee and people kept coming back for the coffee and we thought, “This is it! People want this here.” That’s how Portfolio was born. We kept the art component – I mean to this day, we showcase different artist all the time – at Portfolio’s, Berlin, the Art Theater and Art Du Vine. It was a tie-in, a voice for the community.
How long has Portfolio been in business and what’s its connection to Berlin?
Portfolio never had a food component, eventually, we dedicated a room to making sandwiches and salads. In 2008, when the economy took a dive, we noticed we were still going strong and actually saw an increase in food sales. It was right around that time we began thinking about opening Berlin and then a space became available. This was the future, a casual setting where a person could have a glass of wine, or a cup of a coffee, and another person could have a healthy salmon lunch with vegetables. That’s how we added Berlin to the mix. We didn’t want to confuse Berlin with Portfolio, so we added “by Portfolio’s” next to “Berlin”. It was a different concept and I didn’t want people to think it was the same place. It was born out of demand, people who wanted a healthier option, but didn’t want to go to an expensive 5 star restaurant. The name “Berlin was a nod to home. My family, at the time, still lived in Berlin and the building reminded me of home.
What does a women’s magazine issue mean to you?
I think any emphasis on women or any minority, is always great. I still think we have a lot of leg work to do. It’s just commendable for anybody to emphasize us. I participated at Cal State LB in a women studies class for years. The professor would ask me to come in with two other ladies, we were all women, in male dominated professions and talk to the class. Many times I’m in the back office and people ask for the owner, I come up front, and then they ask me, “Is he coming?” they assume it’s a man. Women have great sensibility, we can be tender and strong at the same time and it would be beneficial for everyone to learn that. I appreciate that.
What can we expect from you next? Anything exciting for your (coffee) supporters + community members?
I can’t say too much but I just took over the wine bar near the Art Theater. I was excited to expand on that a bit and did some light remodeling. I just want to focus on what I have right now, sometimes ‘less is more’ is key. I’m super happy with everything I have on my plate, and as long as I can manage that, I’m good.