THE GENIUS BEHIND THE CLASSIC COFFEE

The Classic Coffee in Downtown Los Angeles.

Written by Harold Hong
Photographed by Kentaro Crockett

THE CLASSIC COFFEE

Standing outside in front of The Classic Coffee, I found myself gazing in awe at the ceiling-to-floor windows on both floors. When you walk in, you’re introduced to a huge space with the bar placed in the middle of the floor with Eames-styled chairs and long, vintage wooden tables on the sides to accommodate whether you’re visiting for a morning latte and breakfast or just to socialize with your colleagues. I ordered an iced macchiato and the team and I waited to meet Gia Yoo, the manager/partner of Classic.

A woman wearing a funky star-patterned t-shirt, thick black frames, and a teal-colored NY hat with blood orange lettering approached us. It was Gia Yoo! Right off the bat, I could tell she had a very charismatic, upbeat attitude and best of all, she was casual and she interacted with us like we were already best friends to begin with.

She was born in South Korea and moved to Hawaii when she was an adolescent. Her original plan was to stick with fine dining as her career in Beverley Hills but she transitioned to managing over Classic Coffee.

Q: First off, I LOVE the place and the interior is amazing!

Wow, thank you! To you guys it might look good, but to me it’s still very empty. The place is still naked the way I see it. I’m not even close to finishing what I envision for Classic. But, wow, thank you for acknowledging us!

Q: No…thank you! Okay. To start, I want to ask: what makes you different compared to all the other cafes out there? I know Verve is right next door and there are many other cafes here in Los Angeles. Any future plans for Classic?

You know, we might seem like a cafe the way we are at the moment but I’m planning to change this place a lot. We have three floors: the basement, the cafe in the first floor, and the second floor upstairs. The great thing about having this amount of space is that I can be very versatile with what I want to do. There’s a local church a block away and some of their attendees are into fashion and we plan to open up the second floor to help them with a little pop-up store. Not only that, we just got our liquor/alcohol license and with that we want to turn the basement into a small restaurant. There’s also a vendor who sells only vegan food and we are looking into giving him some space in our building so he can experiment and sell his product. So, yeah, basically I’m looking forward to having a restaurant in our basement floor, the cafe in the first, and maybe even having a breakfast/brunch type of thing going on upstairs or just having that floor as open space if people want to use it.

Q: How long do you think you guys will carry out the plan you have envisioned?

Well, there’s never going to be any certainty. It’s all about the money. It’s all about how much you want to invest and how much you want to get out of it because we’re not here to donate, instead we’re here to generate. I’m an opportunist. When I work with people, I’m very blunt and straight to the point. I don’t like buttering people up because there’s no need to! I try to build open partnerships. I have this idea where I want to commercialize this space, you know? I’ll tell vendors or people selling some product, “hey, why don’t you bring this in and we’ll advertise it for you.” I’m very… raw. And speaking of Raw, I’m bringing a cold-pressed juice called Raw! I sampled their product and I was like, “Oh my God!” It’s a feel-good juice. But getting back to the point, if I could estimate how long it would take… usually, if it’s a normal process, it’ll take 3 months to set up the product line because you have to do a lot market research. You can always envision what kind of customers or what age group your product might appeal to the most, but sometimes the reality is totally different from your imagination. It’s all about being open-minded and flexible. The next 3 months, you have to test out your products and then you’ll figure out if your business will launch or not. This is a basic structure almost every company uses. For us, when we started, this place was already bleeding and when we came in to take over we had to pump back blood in to this place.Wow. That’s crazy how ambitious you are with this plan! Sticking to the cafe side of your business, as we know Classic Coffee is an original trademark for you guys, where do you get your beans and coffee products from?

Barista holding a latte in The Classic Coffee in Downtown Los Angeles.

So our coffee beans come from Solid and we also have/had two other vendors. First, it was Intellegentsia, but we got rid of them because… just because. You know, we don’t really need to borrow the name from Intellegentsia since this location is beautiful already and we need to focus on our branding. Anyway, the first major turnover was the price over from Intellegentsia. So, instead, we were introduced to a local roaster. We have 3 different coffee beans: light, medium, and dark. With the light beans we use the company called Andante, the second one was Intellegentsia, and for the dark beans we use Solid. And with Solid, we get all three light, medium, and dark also. The taste is different and the aroma as well, just for their espresso. We get a delivery every week from them.

Second floor lounging in The Classic Coffee in Downtown Los Angeles.

Q: From the beginning, were you always interested in the coffee business? Did you know you wanted to do this when you were younger?

Hell no. Oh wait, oops. No, I didn’t! Instead of going to college, I told my mom, “Mom, I don’t want to go to school and pay for the tuition. Rather, let me get the tuition (they were giving me the tuition to go to school). I started my career with fine dining up by Beverley Hills. I was a general manager at the age of 23. School didn’t really fit me. I didn’t see the need for it because I thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I am and always was a hands-on person. I get bored when I read books. School just didn’t make sense to me. I have a term for it and I call it: sexy brain. Very creative, very smart, combined, witty. Sexy brain is more professional. It’s pretty, classy, and intuitive.

Q: Are most of your customers Korean?

No! Not at all! I’m the only Korean. We don’t have a lot of customers right now. Maybe like somewhere in the 100’s. We have a lot of loyal customers though and they help us keep this business going. They never complain. They like the fact that it’s quiet and that this place is open-minded. There are a lot of executives. Most of our customers are up-scale. They give us traffic and they make us look good. There’s a synergy between us.

I’m feeling tired. When I open my mouth I can’t stop talking!

Q: Well, luckily, you already answered a lot of our questions so thanks so much! It’s such an honor you gave us your own time to come talk with us.

Thank you guys! It’s always nice to be recognized and to have you guys feature us on your blog!


The CLASSIC COFFEE
Address: 862 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
Contact: (213) 265–7549
Hours:
Mon-
7:00 am-7:00 pm
Tue-7:00 am-7:00 pm
Wed-7:00 am-7:00 pm
Thu-7:00 am-7:00 pm
Fri-7:00 am-7:00 pm
Sat-8:00 am-7:00 pm
Sun-10:00 am-5:00 pm


Originally published at viavitamagazine.com on August 5, 2015.

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