We’ve been working with Brew/Well since they opened in July 2013 in LA’s Koreatown. Owners and sisters Grace and Elizabeth Rhee have succeeded in creating a really nice relaxed atmosphere with a modern but rustic feel. It’s even been called “the secret spot you didn’t want anyone to know about,” so we think it’s safe to say their hard work paid off!
Brew/Well is still a relatively young business. Can you tell me how it all started?
Grace: Did I tell you how we were open upstairs before? Our mom always wanted to have a coffee shop. She learned how to pull shots and did all the training, but once we opened the shop and we realized all the day to day operations, it turned to us. We didn’t have a perfect vision. We didn’t have everything figured out. It was a lot of learning, a lot of coming up with ideas on the go. Then we ended up having to move downstairs to our current location and we were faced with a choice about what we wanted to do.
Elizabeth: We got a taste for what kind of role we could play in the community. People coming to our shop, getting to interact with the regulars, seeing the same people every day, that’s what got us really excited.
Grace: Also, our personal interests and passions, we could bring those into a coffee shop. It’s more than simply serving coffee.
Elizabeth: It’s more than just selling people products and making people drinks.
Grace: We wanted to provide a space where we can build relationships and have community. Art and creativity could be inside a coffee shop too. We got a glimpse of what this could be and what we could do, so when we had the option, we took it.
Tell me about #brewcommunity.
Elizabeth: It was when Instagram was getting really big. Someone came up with #brewcommunity, and it fit well with us. We want to keep going with the whole community aspect and really build meaningful relationships. On our Instagram, we introduce our community and have them tell their stories. I think it’s interesting how we run into hundreds of people every day and their stories and what they go through can really make you think twice.
People must also come here because they love what you serve. How do you come up with all your creative drinks?
Grace: From the beginning, we wanted to include creativity into the menu and make specialty coffee and tea more approachable for people. We know we’re serving good coffee, so if you just want an espresso, we’re confident in serving that. But for someone that wants good coffee, but still wants to add a little bit of this or that, we can make things interesting. We want to be more creative and we both like experimenting. In terms of the type of shop that we wanted and the kind of environment we wanted people to feel, we decided to develop the menu to provide a different experience. We certainly sell more coffee, but we sell a good amount of tea because we also put them in our specialty drinks. We have one customer that comes in, literally, every day and gets our Assam Tea Latte. She thinks it’s the best thing in the world.
So how did you find Art of Tea?
Grace: Since creativity is such a big part of our menu, we wanted to serve interesting teas. A week before we opened up in the new space, I came home and my sister told me she found this new tea company online. I was freaking out. This was just a few days before we started training so we got into an argument. But she showed me your website and all the different types of teas you have. I think she had already emailed you and we were asked to visit. We ended up going and meeting with Steve and he gave us a tour. He showed us the entire space and introduced us to everyone. We got to sample some of your teas, which were amazing. But on top of that, just the way that the place was run and the friendliness and service was great. Then you offered training for our staff. It was very personal. We really liked the iced teas too. She was literally researching online and found you. I guess it started out as a sister fight.
What a great story! So looking back from your opening, what kind of advice would you give to someone opening their own business?
Elizabeth: In the end, it’s all about relationships and how you treat others that sets one café apart from another. Coffee shops sell coffee, teas, and pastries, but no matter how good it is, it comes down to your interactions with people. I feel like there are so many details and technical things that you’re perfecting and it’s easy to disregard the other aspects. For us, what we value is the relationship. One interaction in your day can make or break your day. Because we interact with people constantly, it’s our goal as a local community coffee shop to make the other person feel valued for who they are.
Grace: We’ve been extremely lucky with the people we choose to work with. For instance: our staff, it’s rare to find people like that. Or our vendors. If I could give advice to someone who’s starting a shop… obviously love the product. Find something that you love and want to serve, but also find the people that you want to do that with.
Interview by Charles Kellogg
Photos by Brew/Well