Rachelle Liu and Kathleen Chen
Thank You Coffee: Coffee Comes Full Circle
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Whether it’s your first cup in the morning or your afternoon treat, chances are you’re grateful for your coffee. Thank You Coffee in Chinatown is a special instance where your beverages (and their makers) thank you back. Join us this week as we highlight Jonathan Yang the founder of Thank You Coffee as he shares his story of community, passion, and how his upbringing and new business came full circle.
Jonathan Yang grew up in Temple City with his brother, sister, and loving mom. His mom was a single mother of the triplets, and while she was at work the siblings spent their days with their grandmother who lived in Chinatown. Jonathan says, “We walked around with her as she went about her daily routine - newspaper and groceries, and chatted with her friends in the community, at the market, and at neighborhood shops. The library at Castelar Elementary School was like a second home to me and my siblings and we’ve probably read every choose-your-own-adventure book on their shelves.”
Jonathan started in the food and beverage industry early on, actually while he was still finishing his degree in Structural Engineering at UC San Diego. He started a little coffee shop in the campus bookstore called Perks Coffee and later moved on to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters where he learned from the head roaster Tony. Jonathan later moved back to LA. He completed a Master’s of Divinity and continued in his love for coffee, first working at Lamill Coffee Boutique and then Cafe Dulce in Little Tokyo.
Jonathan tells us that ”Thank You Coffee is the result of both passion and necessity. After 11 years in specialty coffee, I’ve gained a better understanding of the reality of starting a small business, and the grit and hard work that’s behind it. After all this time in the hospitality industry, I still love serving customers, working alongside great people, and thinking through creative and fun drinks to serve alongside thoughtfully sourced coffee and tea. With Thank You Coffee, I have the joy of partnering with our team, taking what I’ve learned so far and using it to build a shop and environment that I hope will serve and bring joy to our team, employees, and customers.” Jonathan loves coffee and the hospitality business, but says that “The key life factor that pushed me to start Thank You Coffee was that I met and married my wife Julia. I also work at a small church in Orange, and I hope that with Thank You Coffee, I can continue to serve there and also provide for our family, as well as provide work for others that will join our team.”
Thank You Coffee opened towards the beginning of 2020, and you can all guess what followed. On the team’s first day they served coffee at their current location at Paper Please in Chinatown for a pop concert by Eden Kai and Kat McDowell. The team was “wide eyed and looking forward to the future” when two weeks into the new business, the pandemic hit. The small team was forced to adapt weekly to assess the environment and work to best serve guests and customers, and Jonathan is partially grateful for his partners Matt Chung and Cody Wang and for his wife and teammate Julia Denise Yang. Jonathan says, “At times, the process of starting and building Thank You Coffee during a pandemic has been stressful and tiring, but we’ve grown even more as a team, a shop, and a brand as a result.”
But why “Thank You” Coffee? Jonathan says, “I think that 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. 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 pandemic has only deepened their mission, and he says, “As we’re in an environment where everyone is stressed, tired, and uncertain of what lies ahead, we see all the more the difference that kindness and genuine service can make in a person’s day, and the journey so far has highlighted why that’s so important to us.”
Thank You Coffee is unique, and for more than the shop’s attitude of gratitude. With offerings like the You’re Welcome Latte, Hojicha Latte, and even Grass Jelly Cold Brew you can have a taste of both a delicious beverage and nostalgic flavors of home. They roast their own hojicha and make their own syrups so that their “drinks have the flavor, balance, and overall tastiness we want our customers to enjoy.” Jonathan tells us, “We draw from our background and upbringing in the San Gabriel Valley. Matt, Julia and I have a Cantonese background and Cody has a Taiwanese background. To dig deeper into the flavors we’re shaped by, mom’s family was from Shanghai, but she was born in Indonesia and grew up in Hong Kong before moving to the United States with her family. She loves to cook, and introduced all kinds of flavors to my brother, sister, and I. We love taking the flavors that we grew up with, that are inspired by our identities as Chinese and Cantonese Americans and are proud to introduce them to the community that we get to serve.”
Beyond expressing gratitude to their customers, Thank You Coffee is also big on community and giving back to others. They say that one of the most rewarding aspects have been the relationships with customers, neighbors, and friends in the food and beverage industry. From their hojicha chocolate collaboration with CAR Artisan Chocolates to their baker friends Jessica Wang of Piquenique and Laura Hong of Future Tasties, Thank You Coffee is able to create unique partnerships with their friends for all to enjoy. Their creativity doesn’t stop there. To prevent good ingredients from going to waste at the beginning of the pandemic, the team decided to make bottled drinks to donate to the frontline workers who were putting their lives at risk. The team prepped 20 to 100 bottles at a time to donate and prepped large volumes with their limited space and equipment. Jonathan tells us, “We started Thank You Coffee with the desire to serve others, and with the pandemic, we were challenged to consider what we valued and how we could continue to serve and care for our community. Our resources were super limited, but we decided that we wouldn’t just sit and wait but use our limited resources to serve others. We were determined to give as many free drinks as we could to the frontline workers that worked tireless and placed themselves at risk to care for us and save lives. It’s really pushed our little corner to the limits, but it really brought us joy to serve them and give them a caffeinated boost of gratitude.” The generous act actually brought about a new business model for Thank You Coffee and catalyzed a bottled drinks delivery service inspired by their friends The OX LA and Endorffeine.
In the future, Thank You Coffee plans to expand to Anaheim and are in the process of opening a second location, but Chinatown will always hold a special and nostalgic place in Jonathan’s heart. He says, “As we’ve spent more time in Chinatown, it’s grown even more in what it means to me. I’m learning more about how Chinatown isn’t just nostalgic for many, but important in its role in Chinese American history. Even though the Chinese and Asian American population has spread east to the San Gabriel Valley and elsewhere, the Chinese Americans before us started New Chinatown to be a home and a hub when we didn’t have one, and they did so when the odds (and regulations) were against them. This community includes the mom and pop restaurants that have been here, and the aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas we see walking around that are the backbone of Chinatown. We have so much respect for them, and so much gratitude for all they’ve done to pave the way for our generation.” They love it so much, in fact, that they decided to stay in Chinatown permanently and will be opening a location in the same plaza.
We just love the story that Jonathan tells of community, gratitude, passion, and a genuine and heartfelt desire to serve. We can’t wait to see all that Thank You Coffee will do and hope that you will support them as they spread thanks all over Southern California.
Support Thank You Coffee!
For latest updates, follow their Instagram, @thankyou_coffee
You can order in store, but for deliveries and pick up orders, you can DM us on our Instagram
Location: Pop up @ Paper Please:
441 Gin Ling Way, Los Angeles
Hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri & Sat: 10am-4pm
Tues: Delivery LA/OC
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