As an accountant, James Choi figured he’d spend his life immersed in a world of numbers — not flour and coffee. But that all changed when, in 2011, his mother set about opening her dream bakery in Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza. Weeks before opening day, both her business partner and her baker left, so Choi stepped in to help his mom move forward with the opening.
His help was supposed to be a temporary fix. It ended up transforming into a career change.
“I didn’t think it was going to work,” he recalls of that first year. They were selling cookies and pastries from store-bought frozen dough and didn’t know much about coffee. He jokes that in those early days, when Yelp still had a lot of influence on small businesses, all the reviews for Café Dulce were about how nice the staff was, but there was no mention of the food or drinks.
“Being at the store every day and getting involved with the community, he’s just really good with people,” Cindy Choi says of her husband. “So that hospitality aspect…people came to Dulce just to get coffee. I think it just built organically.”
More than 10 years later, people line up for their signature fruity pebble donut holes, apple tuna sandwiches made with Fuji apples, signature dulce latte and the good vibes that the Chois have continued to cultivate since day one. Now, their brand has grown to five Café Dulce locations in L.A. and their latest venture, Yoboseyo! Superette, a specialty market and café they opened last summer in the former storefront of Bicycle Coffee. When the multi-level space, which was already set up to roast coffee, became available during the pandemic, James saw an opportunity to have their own roastery. There was also a huge retail space below, and Cindy saw it as an opportunity to create a specialty marketplace highlighting local makers. “We wanted to become a little launching pad for them,” she says. “Our little small business helping other small businesses.” In the store, you can find candles, cards, artisanal foods and more.
The Choi family has grown, too. Five years ago, Cindy and James became parents with the birth of their daughter Autumn (who is the inspiration for Yoboseyo’s logo). And just a few months ago, they welcomed Autumn’s baby brother. As small business owners who are also parents raising their kids in Downtown L.A., it was important to James and Cindy that Yoboseyo become a community space for the neighborhood and for families. One step in that direction was creating a jiu-jitsu studio in the back of the restaurant. Eventually, they will offer classes for all ages, so parents can drop their kids off and hang out while enjoying a coffee or snack — or take a class themselves.
“Even the little popsicle fridge we have — that’s like my childhood from Korea,” Cindy says. “You go and dig for your favorite popsicle when your grandfather gives you a dollar to go to the neighborhood store.” James and Cindy saw that scene come to life when one day their daughter and her friends visited the shop. The kids burst through the doors and went straight to the ice cream chest to pick out their favorite treats.
Running six shops and parenting two littles is no easy task, but the Chois say they wouldn’t trade it for the world. Also, coffee helps. James shares Café Dulce’s fan-favorite dulce latte, which makes for a great mid-day pick-me-up for parents.
1 part condensed milk
2 parts espresso and milk of choice (steamed or cold and over ice)
Mix 1 part condensed milk (20-25 grams or to taste) into espresso and incorporate with milk of your choice.
If steaming milk, steam milk separately, then incorporate it into the espresso and condensed milk. If serving cold, pour the espresso and condensed milk into the cold milk, then serve over ice.
Note from James: “If you don’t have access to espresso at home, try condensed milk in your coffee, anyhow. It’s a great way to incorporate sweetness, cream and a heavier mouthfeel into your morning jolt or afternoon pickup. It’s especially good in cold brew and cold brew concentrates. We love condensed milk. Asians love condensed milk. It’s a way we can incorporate some Eastern influences into our Western coffee beverages.”
Find Yoboseyo! Superette in Little Tokyo at 358 E. 2nd St. Find Café Dulce in Japanese Village Plaza at 134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, in ROW DTLA at 777 S. Alameda St. #150, in USC Village at 3096 McClintock Ave. Ste. 1420, in Vernon at 2520 S. Alameda St. and in the Fashion District at 210 E Olympic Blvd.