Still here, still alive: Thank You Coffee
Mamiya Rb67 - Portra 400
Coffee shops are an integral part of LA culture and fill your Instagram feed with “but first, coffee” posts everyday. Since the pandemic, a lot of those coffee shops temporarily closed, and as shops were forced to accommodate the new conditions, some have closed permanently.
But tucked away in a small corner (literally) is a pop up coffee start-up that has endured the pandemic and provided coffee to the community. It’s rare to come across a coffee shop in the middle of Chinatown, specially when most of its demographic consumesboba.
I want to introduce you to Thank you Coffee and Jonathan, the owner of the start up alongside his partners, Matt and Cody. The coffee shop shares a space with Paper Please , a stationary store I featured previously. Throughout the past year they’ve formed a symbiotic relationship as they formed a community in Chinatown, and provided coffee to their patrons during bake sales in front of their shared space. When I shot these photos, they were in their own space in the main Chinatown plaza, but now you’ll find them in their new location on Hill Street, around the corner from the plaza.
Jonathan has taught me so much about coffee, how to brew it, and experimental coffee mixtures. One of my favorites is their espresso tonic, and another is a latte called the Five Spiced Latte that has MSG sprinkled in to add an umami flavor, which gives the drink a savory profile. Including MSG in this drink is a way to squash the stigma of the spice, which is historically rumored as harmful, but in fact safely provides useful and delicious flavor to food and drinks.
Creative signature drinks like these encourage returning customers, and that’s exactly what Thank You Coffee needs right now. I’ve observed their struggles in operating during the pandemic and their growth with the Chinatown community, and I’m impressed at how they are thriving as we are getting closer to normalcy.
Q1. What helped your coffeeshop survive through the pandemic when Los Angeles had to lockdown? Was there a temporary shift in plans? Were you able to provide beverages to your customers during that period?
We wouldn’t have survived opening during the pandemic if it weren’t for the strength and support of the community around us. The local businesses in Chinatown (including our friends at PRD and Steep), pointed people our way, and our church community, friends and family, former coworkers all played a crucial role in supporting us and by telling others about us. Our goal during the pandemic was just to survive and to help others do the same. In the beginning, we were just eating the cost to provide donation drinks to frontline workers, and we began to do deliveries to support that. We transitioned our focus away from deliveries after opening back up, but are still delivering once a week. Although people are still ordering for delivery, it seems that many more crave personal interaction and are going out to get their coffee and food.
We’ve had to remain flexible at every stage, do our best to stay creative, and serve our customers to meet them where they were with the best of our resources. We’ve been tired and anxious, but it helped help so much to see others pushing through and fighting for their businesses and communities. Although we’ve got a long way to go, we’re so thankful for where we are at and the support behind us. Initially, we survived by eating into the build out funds we had saved up for our build out, but as delivery and in store orders picked up, we were able to support the shop without digging into our savings. It helped that at the time we didn’t have staff – it was just us.
We’re thankful to have hired a great team that has been a vital part of Thank You Coffee. Our current hope is to keep growing, support them, and care for the community we’re in.
Q2. While Thank you coffee did struggle, I saw that you’ve had success during the pandemic and also have returning patrons that believed in your shop and want to have your coffee. How did you establish yourself in that competitive environment and have returning patrons? Were there collaborations involved that drew coffee lovers to your shop?
I think our love for community, and our care and intention in both the drinks that we serve and the service we provide has helped to set us apart. Our personality and perspective has come through clearly in our branding, and I think that’s resonated with our customers too.
We do our best to source and serve great coffee and tea with an attitude of gratitude for each guest that walks through our doors. We put a lot of care into each drink and recipe so that our drinks are balanced, complex, but also approachable. We’re confident that our coffee will satisfy the taste buds of fellow coffee enthusiasts, but we also hope that people who aren’t as familiar with specialty coffee will feel comfortable in our shop and find something they’ll really enjoy.
- The coffee beans you feature aren’t beans that I would normally see at other shops, it seems certain places produce their own and a few others use “mainstream” brands. I think that’s also what draws coffee lovers to your shop. Are you picky when it comes to featuring their products at your shop?
We usually have 4 things we consider when we decide to work with a roaster: we try to work with roasters that source their coffees carefully and care about the producers they buy from, we consider if they roast their coffees to a profile that really lets the coffee shine, we consider if their packaging and branding reflects who we are in our personality and brand, and lastly, we consider if they’re people we could establish a relationship with and sit down to have a cup of coffee with. A good roaster will do their homework to make sure the coffee shops that serve their product will represent their hard work well.