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Can Tony Konecny and Roy Choi Pull Off Great Coffee for $1?

locol coffee

Arguably no other segment of the foodservice industry as frequently toes the line between quick-service (a.k.a. fast food) and culinary finery than specialty coffee, and in 2016, few foodservice retail ribbon-cuttings will generate as much buzz as the forthcoming initial location of Locol, the new fast food concept from celebrated California chefs Roy Choi (Kogi) and Daniel Patterson (Coi). Locol is being pitched as revolutionary in its approach to food quality and community development (“real fast food made with the heart of a chef”).

While Choi announced on New Year’s Eve that the first Locol location will be opening in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 18, coffee industry veteran Tony Konecny last week announced his involvement in the coffee program, designed to meet a $1 price point in the ambitious fast food operation. The question Konecny endeavors to answer is, “Can we do a $1 cup of coffee and make it really good?”

No stranger to innovative specialty coffee business models, Konecny is the founder of the Tonx Coffee roastery and subscription service, which was acquired by Blue Bottle Coffee in 2014 and merged with the brand shortly thereafter. In a piece posted late last week in Medium, Konecny said he’s helping the Locol team design and execute an in-house roasting operation to bring conscientiously sourced, quality coffee to the restaurant’s patrons for a mere dollar per cup. On his partnership with Choi and Patterson, Konecny wrote:

If you’re a coffee geek, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. And maybe at some point, we’ll share some of our answers. Right now, it’s both a work-in-progress and a labor of love.

Of course, coffee is expected to represent only a small fraction of Locol’s revenue, although no other point on the menu as fully exemplifies the challenge of how to source and prepare based on accountability and quality while also meeting fast food price points. Like many people anxiously awaiting the opening of Locol, we’re curious to see what’s in store.

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1 Comment

Johnny5

The $1 quality coffee is an interesting challenge. Beyond my questions of how they make this work, I wonder if this is bad for the industry. We in specialty have worked very hard to send the message to average consumers that quality coffee costs more. This is not a message we push (at least not entirely) so that we can increase our own profits but because quality coffee is important to us and in order to sustain the segment, we need to charge more. Sending the message that the specialty coffee bar that charges $5 (or more) for your cup of coffee is gouging you and really they could sell it to you for $1 is just not true.

I’ve seen the amount of work that goes into a coffee farm, thoughtful layout and biodiversity, hard labor to maintain crops and handpick harvest, careful processing, global shipping, artful roasting. The amount of time/work put into quality coffee and the prices needed to fairly pay the hard working people that bring it to you, cannot be sustained through $1 cups.

Perhaps I’m wrong and this is just the beginning of a shift in the industry.

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