Text and Photo by Lidia Vijga
There’s never a “perfect” moment for starting a business, but launching a coffee shop during a pandemic is far from the ideal time. Chihoon Song, a passionate Toronto based barista, launched his first specialty coffee shop Coffee Lunar right before the lockdown. As the government imposed strict regulations for local shops, small business owners had to rapidly adapt to the new rules to continue serving their clients, and do whatever it takes to stay afloat.
During this tumultuous time, local businesses had to rely on their loyal customers and social communities. Most of the shops and restaurants switched to pickup and delivery only, while others offered gift cards that could be redeemed later. In response to this crisis, residents across different neighbourhoods created various initiatives to support their favourite local shops and restaurants. But for the local businesses that were new to the neighbourhoods, it was much more challenging to build a substantial client base while adjusting to the operational changes.
Documenting the process
To start building a social community of true supporters, Chihoon was documenting his entire business creation process. From the lighting and a bar layout to the front sign and the pottery selection, Chihoon shared every step along the way to introduce Coffee Lunar to his future customers prior to the launch.
Building consistency around customer experience
Through branding and interior design, Chihoon created a neutral atmosphere with staggering consistency. His vision was to keep everything genderless and as neutral as possible so that he allows customers to fill the coffee shop with colours, individualities, and emotions. To deliver consistency, Chihoon made his clients the focal point and built everything around this simple yet profound concept.
200 days with no time off
While adjusting to mandated operational restrictions, hiring stuff was not possible during the first period of the pandemic. Chihoon spent 7 days a week for over 200 days without a single day off. And when I asked him how on earth was he able to do this, his answer was simple:
“Do everything with passion or
don’t do it at all.”
Adding a unique touch
Aside from the delicious selection of specialty coffee and a signature menu with fruit-infused tea brews, Coffee Lunar tops up customer experience with a variety of unique Korean style handcrafted pastries.
Sharing the knowledge
For those interested in specialty coffee, Chihoon offers one-on-one barista training after 5 pm during the weekdays. His classes include coffee theory, extraction, steaming, latte art, tasting, and overall coffee shop maintenance. For Chihoon, sharing the knowledge and his passion for the craft is a way to give back to the community.
Starting a business during a pandemic is no easy task, but it is possible. I hope that Chihoon Song and the story of Coffee Lunar will inspire other local shop owners to continue their journeys despite the most difficult times we have ever faced in our economy.