Korean coffeehouse chain opens two boro franchises

By Bill Parry

One of the fastest growing coffeehouse chains in the world is targeting Queens as a big part of its global expansion.

South Korea-based Caffebene opened a franchise in Sunnyside last month after opening a store in Flushing last year. The company will open a third Queens franchise, in Astoria this summer, with an additional 10 locations slated for the borough next year.

“Queens is just loaded with neighborhoods full of millennials these days,” Caffebene Senior Director of sales John Barry said. “Millenials love their coffee, so we’re going where they are.”

Barry added that while Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee a day, the millennials, individuals born in the 1980s or ’90s, drink it the most frequently.

He pointed out that “86 percent of them drink coffee regularly, and we offer a nice comfortable place for them to go.”

Caffebene opened its first store in Seoul in 2008, combining European coffeehouses with the traditional Korean culture known as “Sarangbang,” where a room in a home is set aside for studying or writing poetry.

The formula has been so successful that in six years there are a thousand locations in Korea, 300 in China and 100 in the United States.

By 2020 Caffebene is expected to grow to 4,000 franchises in the country and 10,000 globally.

Barry believes a simplistic approach is working.

“It’s the whole coffee experience with much more hospitality, where every customer is treated like an honored guest,” Barry said.

Shana Choi, owner of the newly opened Sunnyside franchise, at 41-31 Queens Blvd., knows the neighborhood well.

“When I first came to the United States 20 years ago, I lived right down the boulevard on 42nd Street,” she said. “I know these people really well, they’re always looking for a nice, clean place to spend their time and relax. Starbucks is always so crowded and not everyone likes to spend their time in bars.”

Barry said he bristles when he hears Caffebene called the “Korean Starbucks.”

“I respect their identity, but I think they made a mistake when they started serving alcohol — that changes the entire brand,” he said. “What we offer is an oasis where you can relax and get out of the craziness. We took what works well in Korea and fine-tuned it to the American culture just like we’ve done in Paris and Rome.”

In addition to Brazilian coffee, Caffebene offers Belgian waffles, pastries and sandwiches.

“We even have gelatos and mojitos, we’re truly global,” Barry said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.