This past weekend, the Los Angeles-based creative agency The Pancake Epidemic opened their first-ever public coffee bar in the Apgujeong neighborhood of Seoul. Developed in collaboration with the Korean brand family Kasina, The Pancake Epidemic Seoul is home to cutting edge specialty coffee equipment from the likes of Mahlkonig and La Marzocco, a pop-up barber shop from one of Seoul's coolest sharps wielders, custom merchandise designed in Los Angeles for TPE Seoul, and a full range of products from Stumptown Coffee Roasters. This marks the very first time Stumptown has been the regular provider for a cafe in Korea.
To learn more about TPE Seoul, we reached out to Brandon Davenport, host of The Pancake Epidemic's popular “Caffeination” coffee video series and something of a committed coffee geek. He was reached by email from Seoul, still basking in the glow of TPE's opening party (documented in photos throughout this feature, used with permission).
First, can you explain to us what you guys do? You're a creative consultancy that throws bowling parties? And makes coffee videos?
The Pancake Epidemic is a sub-section of the award winning creative branding agency StreetVirus. The space began as an exclusive, invite-only cafe installed into the agency to act as a place for our clients and theirs to meet and be inspired by a beautiful art selection carefully curated by agency owner, designer and art collector Darren Romanelli.
We host breakfasts to celebrate new collaborations, art gallery openings, new products, etc. in conjunction with our clients and partners.
When I became integrated into the agency, I was tasked to manage TPE as a cafe and all relations with food and beverage related clients. I was also asked to develop creative content relevant to TPE and the current coffee industry. It seemed a good opportunity to further my education in the world of coffee while sharing that education through creative documentation, which is the base of ‘Caffeination'.
Can we talk about your name? What's a pancake epidemic? Is that too many pancakes? Or not enough?
The name stems from the location. We are located in a unique and iconic Mid-Wilshire Art Deco building directly above IHOP. When our weekly breakfasts began, it was just a more tightly knit group of friends and clients coming to eat pancakes and bacon ordered from IHOP.
That has morphed into now having some of L.A.'s most well-known as well as up-and-coming chefs coming through to cater our breakfast, while we stay true to our origins and continue to serve pancakes and bacon along side the classy concoctions our guest chefs bring present.
You are opening a cafe now in Seoul. Rad! Is this your first cafe?
TPE Seoul is our first cafe thats open to the public. TPE L.A. is a full cafe, yet our guests are on an invite only basis. The success of our events and support from Stumptown, La Marzocco as well other media outlets and companies, has allowed us to explore branching out, which leads to your next question…
Darren Romanelli did a collaboration with Coca-Cola Korea that Kasina supported and distributed. When he came to Seoul to present this project, he was able to cultivate an alliance with Kasina that has led to TPE Seoul.
We have considered opening a full service cafe for some time, but given the strict curation and consistent involvement that we require, the correct space, partnership and idea development were key for this to happen. After extensive communication between Kasina, TPE and Stumptown, we were able to fully align each of our visions and execute a project that all parties are excited about.
What's the neighborhood like in Seoul where your first cafe is opening?
We have opened the TPE Seoul Flagship store in an area called Apgujeong. Apgujeong is a small area located within Gangnam that boasts dozens of great BBQ joints, cafes, eclectic shopping locations (mostly higher-end streetwear and upscale fashion) and an over all young ‘hip' vibe.
Our Cafe is installed above ‘Stussy – Seoul Chapter‘ which is considered one of Kasina's 7 stores, and inside of the cafe we have one of Korea's finest barbers, Sean Kim (Slacking Barber) cutting hair in his pop-up, old-school styled barber shop. The cafe is somewhat conceptual in the sense that we are integrating fashion, great coffee and some select beers, as well as the barber scene all into one beautiful space, fully designed and built by Mr. Lee, owner of Kasina.
How did you originally get connected with Stumptown?
When I was hired into TPE, Darren and I had a lot ambition and ideas for where we could take this project. It was obviously very important that our coffee roasting partner had the same drive to locate and tackle new markets, while carefully stepping out and sticking to our guns. Stumptown was this, through and through. They have constantly shown support for our projects and worked closely with us to ensure their success, even when the project seems a little bit ‘out-there.'
How will your cafe in Seoul handle working with a coffee roastery located thousands of miles away?
There are of course a lot of obstacles to overcome when working with a U.S. based coffee roaster in Korea. Things like shipping costs will obviously affect coffee pricing, particularly when dealing with a coffee like Stumptown that must be served within a 13 day window after being roasted. We are overnighting all of the product and there are a lot of extra bits and issues dealing with customs and what-not, but we have had our sights set and have not become deterred in the slightest at any point from doing whatever it takes to execute this project. And here we are! A few days after opening, all kinks knocked out, and running smoothly. At this point I think we have figured out all the odds and ends and are smooth sailing.
What's the cafe going to look like? Can you tell us about the gear involved?
So behind the bar we have a La Marzocco 3 group Strada, two Malkonïg K30 espresso grinders, one Malkonig EK43 for cold brew and pour overs, Chemex's for pour overs, cold brew made in house (bottled as well as on tap). Our merch selection is comprised of custom TPE mugs, Kleen Kanteen branded tumblers in every color and size, branded pint glasses and a large, constantly changing selection of Stumptown single origin coffees.
Does this expansion make you the International House of Pancake Epidemic?
Funny question. I guess it does, yet we will stick with The Pancake Epidemic Seoul, The Pancake Epidemic Los Angeles and we will follow the same format for future cafes we open.
Seoul has a bumping cafe scene…and bar scene…and food scene. Tell us some of the places you love there.
As far as food, I am at a loss for favourites. Daily I have been taken to a new place, weather it's BBQ, whole chicken Soup, stuffed duck, Jjamppong soup and every other type of noodles and spicy and meaty dish you could imagine. I am ridiculously impressed, being a connoisseur of cultural foods and exploring cuisine while travelling, I have to say Korea has the best restaurant culture I have experienced yet.
The specialty coffee scene is booming and spreading like wildfire. I have tasted a lot of coffee and noticed most ‘artisan' roasters out here are erring on the very light side of roasting, which seems like a typical first approach to messing with specialty coffee. Bearing in mind the scene is still very fresh here. I think that middle ground of roasting is still being developed and there are certainly some pioneering the experimentation. My favourite coffee I have experienced here was at a place called Namusairo, where I had the opportunity to drink their single origin, naturally processed Ethiopian cold brew. Pretty amazing.
And I've done most of my drinking during dinner, over BBQ, so I haven't explored too much of the bar scene, beside one night out in Itaewon, which is just exploding with bars and people from all over the world. There are some really great scenes over here.
Thanks very much for your time.
This feature for Sprudge.com was produced in part during a content residency at Workshop Coffee in London.