Finding Community at Found Coffee | Interview with Annie Choi

In March of this year Annie Choi opened the doors of her cafe, Found Coffee, to the community of Northeast Los Angeles. In the few months since, Found Coffee has hosted a successful Grand Opening party, generated quite a bit of media buzz and Annie's shop has even been awarded "2015 Outstanding Small Business" by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. 


I've had the opportunity to visit Found Coffee twice. The first time I dropped in was a few weeks before Annie's anticipated opening. It was also the day that the health inspector was due to visit. The bright yellow La Marzocco machine was still tucked beneath it's cardboard box, and the furniture stacked in the middle of the room, eager to be situated in it's new home. Annie was excited, optimistic about her opening and so hospitable - even regretting that she couldn't pull me a shot. 


Last week I returned to Found Coffee for the second time. It was such a pleasure to see Annie's sun drenched space in action. The shop had come alive. The seats were filled with customers, the espresso machine purring, and Annie, as lovingly hospitable as ever. 


Bright. Expansive. Refreshing. Cheerful. Ambitious. These are all words that come to mind when I think of Found Coffee. And, I believe it's no coincidence, they are also words to describe it's founder. Over the past eight months, It has been so much fun to watch Annie succeed in turning her vision into a reality. 


LBCC: Why the name Found Coffee? 

Annie: A lot of things in my coffee shop are reclaimed, found, and/or vintage: the decor, the furniture, the pastry plates, the latte saucers. I also really want people to find community in my space. I love communal tables, and I put one in my space for the very purpose of strangers and/or locals to meet each other and chat. 


LBCC: Has it always been a dream of yours to own a coffee shop? 

Annie: It's been a lifelong dream, but I never knew how to go about running one. My mother brews a pot of coffee early every morning to this day. I grew up waking up to the smell of coffee, and one of my favorite hobbies is to frequent different coffee shops in LA and around the world. When I left my previous career, I knew it was time to figure out how to own my very own coffee shop. 


LBCC: From the very beginning, with the launch of your crowd funding campaign, Found Coffee has seemed to center around a community. What is the thing that stands out to you most about the Found Coffee Community? 

Annie: The Found Coffee Community is, quite simply, Northeast Los Angeles (#NELA for short). The people here are warm, welcoming, inviting, lovely. I grew up in NELA so I get along with these people well. I recently celebrated my birthday, and my super cute staff wrote "Happy Birthday, Annie!" on the board, and I had regulars who were genuinely sad to have missed it. I have regulars that are concerned that I haven't really been able to take a day off since I've launched. Recently, I had regulars who loaned me their personal vintage rotary phone collection to display on my shelves. 

The Found Coffee Community is the heartbeat and lifeline of my little shop -- they keep my shop alive, they allow me to pay my staff, etc. It's not easy running your own business, and I think it's very important to be transparent about that. The Found Coffee Community lifts me up when I have rude customers or difficult days. The people here remind me that no matter how hard it is, owning a small business is also so enriching and supremely wonderful. 

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LBCC: You came from managing Cafe Demitasse in Santa Monica, and you have expressed to me a number of times that Demitasse is a integral part of what you are doing now. Can you explain a little bit about the importance of your relationship with them?

Annie: Bobby Roshan, my former boss and owner of Demitasse Coffee Roasters, is now my friend for life. Demitasse gave me my start in coffee two years ago, and I will be forever grateful. As General Manager of Demitasse Santa Monica, I worked closely with Bobby and Frank Kim, the current General Manager of Demitasse Little Tokyo, to develop drinks for the two shops and figure out tasting notes for the different coffees that we'd be serving. I learned to really love coffee. But personally, I learned about the spirit of a coffee shop given by the baristas themselves. Demitasse baristas happily answer any questions about coffee and simply love what they do. I maintain close ties with both shops and try to visit when I can. Demitasse taught me about the coffee community and how warm it is. 


LBCC: Starting a business is certainly not an easy endeavor. What's the biggest thing that you learned about yourself in making Found Coffee come together?

Annie: I've learned not to feel guilty about taking breaks. My shopbaby is important, yes, but I can also love and live life outside of my small business. 


LBCC: Do you have a favorite time of day in the shop?

Annie: My favorite time is when sunshine fully fills my shop through my floor-to-ceiling storefront windows. The natural light makes the shop bright and airy and wonderful. 


LBCC:  Is there anything else that you'd like to tell us about Found Coffee that we might not know?

Annie: The name found also stems from things I've found in my personal life: my rescue pup (his name is Frankiepants), myself and my faith.