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Meet Bryan Choi of The OX Los Angeles

Hi Bryan, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I have always been interested in coffee–it probably started in my college years with all the hours I’ve spent at coffee shops either studying or working as a freelance translator. Back then, it was a lot of dark, bitter iced coffee with lots of sugar/syrups and milk. Then, I discovered a coffee shop called Intelligentsia and tried their Cafe Latte for the first time. It was the first time that coffee did not taste bitter. It was delightfully sweet and enjoyable. I asked a barista if they put any syrup in the latte, and he said, “nope, that’s how good a latte can taste when it’s perfectly steamed.” And from that moment on, I started doing the research. I started to seek out other coffee shops in Los Angeles that are leading the so-called “third wave” of coffee. With the help of baristas and coffee shop owners, I started to learn more about coffee, about different brewing methods, coffee regions, and etc.

Around this time, I was involved in running my family business in the garment industry for about seven years. I learned my way around being a small business owner by looking over my dad’s shoulders and running the business with his guidance. I really wanted to work in coffee, but I was knee-deep in the family business, it seemed impossible for me to leave. Then in the beginning of 2019, my father asked me if I wanted to go work for someone else, his acquaintance who is also in fashion. By this time around, our business was struggling, and it definitely was not enough for the two [my father and I] of us to get by. I agreed to go. It was another detour from working in coffee and hospitality. I thought maybe it’s not meant to be. I hated working in the garment industry, but if it pays my bills, why not? I said. Then, from the first day of working at the new place, I realized it wasn’t a place where I could see my future and that life is too short to be in the industry I despised. So I apologized to the owners and told them I am quitting. When they asked me what I was going to do, I told them “I don’t know, maybe open a coffee shop?”

Then as soon as I left that place, I headed down to Tactile Coffee, where I was good friends with the owner’s Eric and Mike. I asked them if I can work there, and they politely declined. Then I asked if I could work or “intern” for free, and they said “sure.” Thanks to them, I was able to learn what it’s like to be on the other side of the coffee bar for the next seven months. Even though opening a shop of my own was still a dream of mine, I still did not have any clear path. It was beginning of September when my dad called me. He said my mom’s ex-coworker is a real estate broker, and she heard about a coffee shop space in Koreatown that was going to be available. She knew that I had an interest in food and coffee, so she reached out. We went to check out the place. It was on the second floor of Oxford Palace Hotel. I was not personally familiar with the hotel, but my parents told me they have been there numerous times—especially in the past. Their lobby and the second-floor lounge have been the spot for older Korean Americans to catch up with old friends or have business meetings.

The lounge space was already built out—with a grand piano in the middle, carpeted floor, and heavy marble tables scattered throughout—which meant I could concentrate on just rebuilding the coffee bar section and operate as soon as I was ready. With the help of family and family friends, we were able to open in mid-December. The name “The OX” has three meanings: 1) it is a shorthand for Oxford Palace Hotel, where the coffee shop is located in. 2) My Chinese astrological sign is the ox. 3) O and X are polar opposites; by conjoining two symbols that mean the opposite things, I wanted to bring together people of different generations, different races, and different ideologies together through coffee and tea. We were slowly getting known in Koreatown as the place to study or work. We started to have a handful of regulars who would visit multiple times a week. Then everything had changed when the coronavirus hit us, and all restaurants had to close.

Even though takeouts were allowed, because we were located inside the hotel (which also shut down for few months), we were not getting any customers. For a couple of weeks, I thought hard about closing down until the pandemic was over. I could not see a way out. Then I saw that other coffee shops started offer cold brew and other drinks in half-gallon growlers or jugs. Through another coffee shop owner, I was able to get a case of the half-gallon jugs. I was still unsure if I could move the whole case (each case contains 108 jugs), so I split it with another coffee shop owner. I thought at least I could move the extra inventory of coffee and tea that would otherwise be wasted if I were to eventually close. With a help of an illustrator friend who came up with the label design, I posted on various social media platforms that we are selling the half-gallon jugs. Since I had about 20 miles commute from home to the shop each day, I told people that I can deliver if they lived somewhat close to my commute.

To my complete surprise, I sold out of the half case of jugs in about two weeks. It was mid-April when we started the jugs, and people definitely missed having coffee and tea drinks. A lot of people also wanted to support small businesses like us. Ordering a half-gallon of something you haven’t tried before is not an easy decision, but a lot of people took that leap of faith to buy from a shop they probably haven’t heard of before. I was able to hire back my baristas to help me make and fill orders. COVID-19 brought me a lot of stress and pain. Being a business owner can be lonely sometimes, and to this day, I am not completely sure how long I can continue this operation. However, the pandemic has taught me that there are people out there who have good hearts and want to support small guys like us. And it is my joy to bring the necessary caffeination to everyone’s doorsteps—one half gallon at a time.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Definitely not. There were usual struggles that come with a first-time business owner; not enough experience, not enough working capital, and long hours. Then after a few months, when the pandemic hit, there were lots of unforeseeable stumbling blocks like not being able to serve customers indoors, keeping me, my baristas, and the customers safe and healthy, and struggling to find new customers and retain old customers.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about The OX Los Angeles?
We are a coffee lounge that pivoted into home deliveries because of the pandemic. We are known for our flash brew (also known as “Japanese-style iced coffee”), various milk teas, and assortment of cold-brewed loose leaf tea. We’ve recently started offering COW (chocolate over walnut) cookies and Basque-style burnt cheesecakes. We are different from others because we offer contactless home deliveries of half-gallon jugs all over Greater Los Angeles area. I am especially proud of our Blue’min Milk Tea–it’s a milk tea made with moonlight jasmine tea and butterfly pea flower, which gives the blue color to the drink.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
I started college as a music major–music has been a huge part of my life before I started this business. I would love to somehow better connect my background in music into what I am doing now.

Pricing:

  • Hologram Cold Brew (64 oz) $18
  • Blue’min Milk Tea (64 oz) $24
  • Jade Oolong Cold Brew Tea (64 oz) $20
  • Peach Iced Tea (64 oz) $18

Contact Info:


Image Credits

James Hur; Wonho Lee; Rebecca Peloquin

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