Our Meet the Merchant series features Q&As with real-world Clover merchants. Read our full catalog for innovative ideas and real-life stories of small businesses in action.
In this installment, we sit down with Annie Choi, the owner of Found Coffee in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. Found Coffee offers delicious pastries and high-end beverages using beans from a variety of roasters, all in a warm, welcoming environment. Annie shares how and why she started her own coffee shop, how Clover helps her business run smoothly, and how her team has adapted to business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clover: Hi Annie. Thanks for speaking with us today. What made you want to open Found Coffee?
Annie Choi: I’m originally from the Los Angeles area, and after I graduated from college, I wanted to move back and work in entertainment for a little bit. I worked in television post-production for a few years. I was initially attracted to the entertainment industry because I wanted to tell stories, but I realized the role of TV editor didn’t really align with my priorities.
I always wanted to open a coffee shop, but I didn’t know how. It occurred to me that running a coffee shop is actually the telling of stories, too. The farmers’ stories, the way the beans are roasted, and the barista making your latte—that in itself tells the story of a great journey. Add to that the stories inside the shop— including our regulars—and I was really pleasantly surprised to be able to engage in storytelling in a way that matched my personality better than TV or film ever could.
Clover: How did you make that transition? Opening up a business takes so much work!
Choi: I decided to take a gap year and evaluate my options. I was super miserable in my last job in the entertainment industry, and I felt that I was at a crossroads. I tried out a whole range of other jobs. I took internships. And when I decided to apply to work at a coffee shop, nobody would accept me because I was overqualified having had a career before. And so I wrote a cold email to the owner of a well known coffee shop in Little Tokyo, asking if he offered unpaid internships.
He interviewed me the next day, and I started as an unpaid intern the next week. I ended up an intern for a month, a barista for three months, and then a manager of the second location he was opening in Santa Monica. I had worked my tail off to learn the craft and every aspect of the shop. And so because I went for it—not many people ask to do free work—I learned everything that I needed to know. You’ve just got to hit the ground running.
Clover: What makes Found Coffee special?
Choi: So my mission and vision for the shop is to help locals really shine. I love supporting California vendors, and because I am a born and raised Angeleno, I love pumping money back into my state.
We have mainly California vendors, including our tea vendor, our coffee roasters, our pastry vendor, and even our merchandise. I like to say that 90% of my vendors are from California and 100% are West Coast.
We also host pop-ups from different vendors in our space every month. Sometimes a particular vendor is a great success and our customers ask when they are going to come back! We converted some of the most popular pop-ups into residencies, where we’d feature them in-house on a regular, repeating schedule. For instance, on Thursdays we featured a vegan breakfast sandwich pop-up by Geaux Party, since we don’t make any food onsite ourselves.
Clover: How did you choose your location?
Choi: Eagle Rock is a young, professional community, where people need a coffee shop to write in, to have meetings in. Also, there was no specialty or craft coffee shop in Eagle Rock already.
I did a lot of research before deciding where to open up. As many business owners will tell you, location is everything. Eagle Rock has a lot of creatives, a lot of artists, and a lot of people that work in the entertainment industry. I love that I can talk shop with them! But I also did research into the demographics and found that there are a lot of young families in the area, people who have kids that are under five. That was really good because parents need coffee, and they’re always tired.
Clover: Why did you choose Clover for your point-of-sale systems?
Choi: I actually had Clover from the very beginning. I’ve worked with other POS systems at other jobs, but I love the functionality and the design of Clover. I have a Station because the screen swivels and pivots towards the customer, which I thought was really cool. It has great design, and it’s easier to customize to my individual needs than other systems.
Clover: How has your business changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Choi: Our hours changed, as a start. With all the stay-at-home orders, demand dropped, but most people were still looking for coffee in the morning, so we focused our staffing during those hours. I’ve had to clear out seating. And obviously we have the social distance tape on the floor, require everyone to wear masks when they come in, and limit the number of people in the store. For us it’s a maximum of six people at a time allowed inside.
My baristas had to adapt as well: wearing masks, changing gloves all the time, and sanitizing the entire place frequently. We’ve had to pivot our business model by offering new items like loaves of bread three times a week.
We now offer staple items like gallons of milk since the lines at the grocery stores are still pretty long. People have been really responsive to that, and love that we offer that option to them. We also started offering half gallons of cold brew, oat chai latte, and almond chai latte to the public. Those have added to our revenue by a little bit, but it’s also to serve the community.
Clover: We know that there have been a lot of issues with aggression towards Asian-American people and their businesses as a result of the pandemic. Has that affected you?
Choi: I personally have been a target of very passive-aggressive racial remarks during this pandemic, and that was very shocking. Unfortunately, it’s become more of a normal thing. I actually say on our business platform that I’m very proud to be an Asian-American woman who owns a business. Luckily, our regulars support us because they love us and our products, so thankfully the business hasn’t been a target. But I personally have felt it outside of the shop. This is a time where xenophobia is going to rise, and if you all can support Asian-owned businesses, that would mean the world to me.
Clover: What advice do you have for other small business owners?
Choi: Reaching out to your community via social media is important, because everyone is online all the time right now. Keep them updated on changes to your hours, products, and systems. And also, stay positive as best as you can!
What’s really lovely about the Found Coffee community is that they are very, very loyal. In general, I think small business customers are very loyal people. And so I was really encouraged in the beginning when so many people bought Clover Gift Cards to keep us afloat. They want to see us still open after all of this crisis settles. Small businesses are anchors in our community.[Photo of Found Coffee by Wonho Frank Lee]