I started drinking coffee when I was eight years old. What. That’s perfectly normal for the child with a Colombian-Cuban background. Don’t worry, it was heavy on the milk (cafe con leche) and I only really got to drink it when I was with my grandmother.
In any case, I love the stuff. So, it’s no wonder that one of my favorite things in Seoul has been trying out new cafes. There’s no shortage of them. Seriously, you think there are lots in say, Seattle or L.A., but these cities have nothing on a place where cafes sit adjacent to, above of, and diagonal from each other.
Cafe Yeon is like my home away from home (away from home). It’s two blocks from my apartment and you can find me there nearly every weekend, sipping on a latte, nibbling on home-made cranberry butter cookies.
In that time, I’ve had some really great interactions with the owner. Since our language communication has been limited, our relationship has been focused on actions: a smile exchange, a free tea, a gift I brought her from Bali. I’m a loyal customer and with a designer’s eye, I’ve loved seeing the evolution of the space.
With the help of my friend, Haeyoung, I had the opportunity to sit down with this young business owner, Chae Seo Yeon, and talk about her cafe.
1. What were your reasons for opening up this cafe?
I used to work for a magazine, doing layout but I always wanted to open up a small cafe. This space became available, so I jumped at the chance.
2. What was your inspiration for the interior?
It was seeing tons of cafes. They inspired me. I love wood which is why there’s a lot of that material. I also like the idea of collections.
3. What is your design style?
I don’t have a particular style. I guess I like the eclectic look. I worked on the decor one wall at a time and so it came together little by little. I left one wall white and bare to avoid a cluttered look. My vision for the roof was an A-line style, like a cabin. But, it could not be done so I had one side slanted. The other thing I knew was that I wanted an area to keep bins of beans; that was the loft space.
4. Did you have any assistance with the design?
A good friend of mine with a great sense of interior design helped me out.
5. Where did you find the accessories used to decorate?
Customers bring me items from their travels, etc. (Thus, the eclectic style). Some have even made cushions for me. I used to make cloth coasters when I had more time.
6. What do your customers enjoy most about your cafe?
Some people think it’s a big space from the outside, but once they look in, they see it’s pretty small. They like the knick-knack decor here. As well, they like strong coffee and that’s how I make it. So, I guess some customers come for the coffee and some come from atmosphere.
7. You roast your own coffee beans. Where did you learn to do that?
I studied about coffee making in a class here in Korea. I learned how to roast beans and that sparked my interest in opening my own place.
8. What has been your biggest challenge/fear as a business owner?
The biggest challenge has been not having any time for myself. Also, financially, I am not making a lot of profit now; still paying for the business. As a small cafe, I pay more for beans; big cafes can get beans cheaper at bulk price. I didn’t realize it was seasonal in terms of customers; that can be hard. Being an owner is also physically demanding with long hours. I get pretty tired.
9. What are your future hopes for your cafe?
I hope to roast more types of coffee beans, sell more beans. I hope not to be affected by competition. I have really loyal customers and made friends with the neighborhood women. I hope this loyalty continues.
Yeon’s is a place with great atmosphere. The owner’s friendliness and warmth has kept me coming without fail for over a year. I’ll miss this little spot.