The Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts is home to LocoL, a new fast food concept with an intriguing affordable coffee program from chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson. Patterson is a multiple James Beard Award honoree and the founder of the San Francisco-based Daniel Patterson Group, whose restaurants include Coi, Aster, and Haven. Choi should need no introduction to Sprudge readers; he’s the founder of Kogi BBQ, a food truck credited with popularizing the Korean taco, and the man behind LA restaurants like Chego, Pot, and A-Frame. We profiled his vivid take on hotel coffee at the Line Hotel’s CaFe back in 2014, during which time he shouted out cafes like G&B, Cafe Dulce, and Cognoscenti as some of his favorite LA coffee haunts.
In its first few weeks of business Locol has been featured by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the LA Times, and they’re in the planning stages to open two more LocoL locations in Oakland and San Francisco. The original location, in Watts, is just about a half-mile from the famous Watts Towers. The closest Starbucks is nearly two miles away, in South Gate. Watts is about eleven miles south of downtown and the cafe-filled neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
The chefs cooked up the idea for LocoL—new breed of healthy fast food—while discussing the challenges of food deserts at the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen. Each and every ingredient and recipe at LocoL has been painstakingly chosen and developed to be delicious, healthy, and affordable. Choi and Patterson have recruited heavily from the Watts neighborhood for staff, including to execute their coffee program, which is overseen by two noteworthy coffee veterans: Tony Konecny, formerly of Victrola Coffee, Intelligentsia, his own Tonx Coffee, and Blue Bottle Coffee, and Sumi Ali, also formerly of Tonx Coffee, Intelligentsia, and G&B Coffee.
At LocoL, coffee hot or cold, black or sweet and creamy, is $1. It begs a lot of questions—does that mean serving low quality coffee? Is it a loss leader? How can it possibly be good at that price? So I headed to Watts to try some coffee and interview Konecny, including a visit on the cafe’s first official day of breakfast service in late February.
How did you originally connect with Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson and become part of the LocoL project?
Roy and I had a chance to talk coffee a couple years back and it seemed like our attitudes about it, and about the emerging LA coffee scene, had a lot of overlap. I’ve always been a big fan of Roy and backed the crowdfunding campaign for LocoL right away. When they reached out to talk about coffee options I was happy to give my two cents, and somehow that morphed quickly into us deciding to dive into roasting ourselves. I guess I drank the Kool-Aid!
Why did you want to be part of LocoL?
Who wouldn’t? I can’t say no to the chance to work with such brilliant people with a clear ethic and mission I strongly believe in. There is so much heart in this project. I’ve spent the bulk of my coffee career looking for ways to reach new audiences, to push great coffee beyond its niche. LocoL feels like both a completely unique opportunity and a logical next step for me.
Who is on the LocoL coffee team with you?
Sumi Ali, who was on my roasting team at Tonx Coffee and served time at G&B and Intelligentsia and who has long been one of my favorite people in coffee. And one of my favorite people to talk shit about coffee with. We share a lot of the same philosophy and push each other pretty hard. Roy and Daniel both have strong opinions about coffee too and the stuff coming out of that dialog already feels like the start of something big.
What is your philosophy about serving coffee in the context of a fast food restaurant like LocoL?
We approach this with the idea that there is no limit or ceiling for how good this can be, but build on a sort of platonic ideal we all share of this imagined, perfect, comfort food mug of diner coffee—exploring ways to craft a truly great version of that from first principles.
What is on the menu?
Hot coffee and cold coffee, served black or sweet and creamy, for $1. We’re also selling our beans, The Mix, in the shop in $8 bags.
How do you source the coffee to be up to your standards, but stay in the budget to be served at LocoL?
Cup a lot. Make smart choices. Buy great green. Work with great people.
What will be the difference between a cup of coffee at LocoL and one that costs $3.50 at a specialty coffee bar?
Well, you won’t wait have to wait five minutes for your cup at LocoL. And The Mix is a blend, so it tends to be a little more balanced and less one-dimensional than many of the single origin brews that are in vogue at Third Wave shops.
What is the plan for managing the coffee program at LocoL as they add more locations?
Roast more coffee!
LocoL’s breakfast menu means they’re now open from 7am to 9pm each day, with daily items like egg sandwiches, French toast holes, yogurt and granola, fresh juices, and of course coffee. Bags of their coffee bean blend are also available for $9. Choi and Patterson can often been seen in-house bringing their experience, passion, and star power to Watts to be part of a something bigger than just opening a new fast food concept. The fact that these chefs took the time to make a coffee program with integrity is worth much more than a dollar. It’s priceless.
Julie Wolfson is a culture writer based in Los Angeles. Read more Julie Wolfson on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Audrey Ma (@oddwie)