Why Locol’s $ 1 Coffee Brand Matters

A perhaps unexpected signature of the Locol fast food chain, Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson with a soul, was his dollar coffee mug, which was unlike most other dollar coffee mugs: designed by Tony Konecny ​​and Sumi Ali, two veterans of the fancy coffee world, it’s made with pretty coffee beans, and it’s probably largely better than any coffee you would get anywhere else for a dollar. And, it turns out that was also the first step in starting a new coffee business.

While the coffee operation at Locol has always been a separate business – essentially, a roaster in which Locol is a partner, and which has, until now, exclusively supplied Locol and most of Daniel Patterson’s restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Coi – it officially came out the other day in the New York Times like Yes Plz. The company’s main offering, for starters, will be bags of its coffee blend, the Mix, for between $ 8 and $ 9. While only available in Locol outposts for now, Konecny, who sold their subscription coffee service Tonx to Blue Bottle in 2014, unsurprisingly plans to return to selling coffee online.

At some point, these shots will include some sort of independent cafe, most likely under the Locol brand. (In recent months, after what co-founder Daniel Patterson admitted was a sometimes difficult first year, Locol has expanded into a number of different formats, including a truck and a bakery.) Where these will exist compared to other upcoming Locol outposts – for which the current plan, Patterson said California Sunday Magazine, is to “start in the low-income places that need it most, and then spread to the rich areas” – seems less clear. What Konecny ​​will say now is that he and Ali “have a long itchy itch to try and create a super high volume retail concept,” but for now the idea is “something. that can accompany a future Locol location or complement another location rather than trying to make it work in isolation.

The problem with a standalone Locol coffee, as some people in the specialty coffee industry will eagerly tell you, is the economy. The magic of Locol’s one dollar cup of really good coffee ($ 1.50 if you want milk and sugar) – which top cafes seem to sell for three dollars or more – is multi-faceted. Locol thickens the slim profit margins of cheap coffee by combining smart sourcing, a single blend of coffee, a tidy menu of just four options, volumes of fast food and a riff on the old trick of turning old coffee hot into new cold coffee, producing very little waste.

More importantly, the amount of money a full-fledged fast food business must make with each cup of coffee sold is far less than what an independent cafe must earn. (Locol lost money in its first year, Patterson admitted last month, and some have speculated that coffee was a leading profit center. ” no doubt one of the reasons why a ‘super-volume retail concept’ is what the partners of Yes Plz are interested in – even though the expanded coffee menu that is in the works inevitably produces drinks with higher margins. high.

Audrey Ma / Locol

The economics, in fact, is the most recurring trope in the narrative of Yes Plz, frequently used to position it across a chasm from the fancy coffee industry story after story (like this one) – while ignoring that there is a lot of space. between the current context and the public for the fancy coffee and yes, the more populist view of Plz. This is made possible because of the comparative quality of Yes Plz’s coffee for the price (no one would care if it was cheap and bad, after all), due to Konecny’s history in the industry. specialties – before launching Tonx in 2011, he helped open Intelligentsia’s first coffee bar in LA in 2007, after a stint at the Victrola in Seattle – and because the dollar mug of good coffee has a lovely subtext Is there anything more satisfying than the idea that the mythical snotty barista, one of our most enduring cultural memes, is dominating their superiority over you by standing on a pile of stinky fireworks, after all?

It’s no coincidence that this is part of Konecny’s talk about making great coffee more accessible. “The most important thing holding back wider adoption of craft coffee at the craft beer and mass market scale,” he says, “is how little we have allowed the average coffee drinker to believe his own opinion has value and led them to believe that only skilled connoisseurs can safely separate shit from shinola.

As the economy of Yes Plz has genuinely pissed off some people in the fancy cafe, as the Times piece, it is precisely because of the possibility that it will be seen in the same context as the Stumptowns and Blue Bottles of the world. If considered equivalent, it could undermine the realization of the fantasy that has long undergone the fancy coffee industry that one day consumers will wake up from the fog of cheap caffeine and recognize that a cup of good coffee is not an inevitability of capitalism but a small miracle – the result of a finicky agricultural product successfully navigated through a vast world machine that stretches from seed to cup of novelty.

If consumers could just realize that, according to their dream, they would taste and enjoy good coffee like good wine – coffee professionals would stop here to note that there are even more aromatic chemicals in coffee. that there is in wine – and maybe pay for it accordingly, happily parting with well over a dollar for the right cup of coffee, maybe five or 10 dollars or even more, because in fact, it is a very good deal compared to the wine, apart from the questionable prices of the waterfalls. And then the coffee growers and baristas and all the rest would be paid a salary closer to what they really deserve – and maybe stores could even afford to pay their rent in New York and San. Francisco.

All this to say that, since the world of fancy coffee is united in one belief, it is that premium coffee probably should cost more than it does, although that dream has already come true: a surprisingly large number of people no longer blink to pay four or five dollars (or more!) for the correct sequence of dog whistles.

But, Konecny ​​asserts, rightly so, I think, “It’s still a very narrow slice of the public that buys by paying more than a few dollars for a brew, and doubling down on all the second-rate candle signifiers of high-end taste.” , custom aprons, all that stuff, don’t move the needle enough, especially when the coffee is often not sourced, roasted, or brewed well enough to warrant presentation. The real problem that could cause people to undervalue coffee, he continues, is that “when coffee is just ho-hum, the message all of this sends to the consumer is that either A) the emperor didn’t. no clothes and that fancy coffee thing is BS or B) the consumer blames himself for not having a sophisticated enough palate to appreciate it.

In other words, Fancy Coffee, even to the extent that it has tried to deliver a more human experience in recent years – the hallmark of a really cool coffee these days is that it will ask you if you want milk. and sugar in your coffee – has largely evolved in the direction of capturing a wider swath of an audience already predisposed to their tastes and pitfalls. The central argument of Konecny, Ali and Yes Plz is that while, yes, a very interesting obscure cup of coffee might be worth $ 10, there are a lot of people who will never have access to or be interested in Fancy. Coffee and what it means. But maybe they would like to drink better coffee than they currently are, even if they don’t know – and maybe a cheaper cup of coffee is the way to get them in.

About Jeffery L. Parker

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