Taipei - KiOSK
I have seen news about KiOSK in social media in the past few months, not only from my friends but also from public channels or online magazines. I was curious about this coffee shop that made everyone fall in love with it. If you browse on the community with the hashtag #KiOSK, you will find selfies of many girls. However, the most showing up is the #AvocadoToast and the #OliveLemonCheeseCake; the screen is full of these two feeds. If you search on the Internet with the word of KiOSK, you will see a lot of bloggers posting about the coffee machine of the coffee shop, the bicycle in the corner, the reading glasses on the magazine rack, moreover, the front blue door.
I checked the official fan page of KiOSK and jumped onto the screen was a photo of a Cafe in East London that was updated on October 10 this year (2017). Scrolling back the timeline and I found out that the owner refreshes their page about once in one to two weeks. Read it in detail; they renew mostly for the opening hours, the date of closing, or a traveling photo which is not related to the news they updated. This quiet, alternative-thinking coffee shop owner and the followers who are crazy for it on the Internet reveal completely different characters. It makes me very curious; in the end, who is the person behind such a well-known coffee shop in Taipei? What kind of personality and story this person has?
Phil結實且精瘦，梳了一個極短的髮型，皮膚黝黑的他蓄鬍，不笑的時候眉頭深鎖彷彿正思考著什麼事。而且我猜測，他不笑的時候居多。結束台灣的學業之後他放下台灣生活前往英國倫敦繼續求學，攻讀藝術設計方面專業（Book Art Craft）；一待就是五年。「那怎麼會是咖啡呢？」我問得沒頭沒腦。原來Phil還在台灣的時候曾經在星巴克咖啡館打工，就在辛亥路台大附近。那家連鎖店是當時台灣少見的星巴克店面之一；他算是很資深的星巴克員工之一。當時店裡頭有位管理階級的前輩，不管在個性或是待人與人互動上都有著難以捉模的古怪性情；不過這位前輩卻樹立了讓Phil學習做事的榜樣。
I sent an email to KiOSK one month before I flew back to Taiwan. I received a reply the next day. It may be that my expression in the letter was formal and severe, so Phil, the boss of KiOSK was also polite when replying to the letter. However, Phil readily agreed to my interview and to meet me at the time before the store opens.
Phil is lean and wears short hair. When he is not laughing, he frowns, and it seems he is thinking about something serious. And I guess, he is mostly not laughing. After finishing his studies in Taiwan, he let go of his life and went to London to continue his studies for Book Art Craft. He was in London for five years.
"Why do you do business about coffee?" It was when Phil was working at the Starbucks Cafe, just near to Xin-Hai Road. The branch was one of the few Starbucks stores in Taiwan at the time; he was one of the most experienced Starbucks workers. At that time, there was a manager in the store. The manager was mercurial in personality and interaction with others. But he set a standard for Phil to learn how to do things in an orderly way.
"He (the manager) was unpredictable. If the way we did things did not meet his standards, he would swear and make people feel overwhelmed. But he also looked at himself with the same standards. He was thorough and careful. Even the processes that others could not see were done perfectly. I think this is the way to manage things, even if the details that others can't see must be done well; because only you know what the standard is and how complete it is. He taught me not to be muddled when dealing with details."
After Phil arrived in the UK, he still worked in coffee shops; not only that, but also because he had been amazed for a long time, during which time he learned a lot of European cafe atmosphere. "I noticed that for Europeans, drinking a cup of coffee is a life-like thing. A standing cafe or a crowded and dark coffee shop on the corner is all part of life. Drinking coffee is not deliberate. It is also not because of the interior design in the store that attracts customers. It’s just for a cup of coffee.” Phil recalls the past in London, while his eyes focus on somewhere.
It’s been half an hour since we start the interview. Even though we talk about coffee, it’s hard to see Phil smiles, especially for a person who lives on coffee. Moreover, he answers my questions with seriousness. I feel very familiar with this personality. So I ask an unrelated question: "What is your constellation?" I rarely ask about the constellation during interviews; because I believe that a person's personality is developed with the living and lifestyle.
We were born in the same year, and the dates of our birthdays are very close. We are all earth signs, and the experience of studying is very similar. Both all like and enjoy the European lifestyle. The restraint and seriousness that I perceive in Phil is a mirror of myself. We are accustomed to adopting a reserved attitude toward unfamiliar environments and people. Somehow, when facing our professional field of work, we are still too cautious to take it easy.
No. 40, Section 1, Xinsheng North Road, Taipei
Such a personality often makes others feel that it is not easy to get along with. However, there is a standard in Phil's mind that the details should be done correctly. Even the perfection does not exist. When we find out that our concept is quite similar, Phil is no longer stiff and severe, and his face begins to show smiles. And I am just like chatting with another me, no longer like a cautious interview.
Phil represented his attitude and spirit on the first coffee shop, Flat White which opened at Yongkang Street at his age of 32. Although the expectation of the market and the public about a coffee shop is different from those of Phil's mind, he has built his coffee world in Yongkang Street with a business approach close to the ideal plan. Three years later, due to the expiration of the lease, Flat White was ended. After a short break, Phil comes to the Guanghua business district to start with KiOSK. This time, the feature of KiOSK is slightly different.
In the days of Flat White Cafe, Phil emphasized the appearance that a café should keep, so it often stagnated between his concept and the reality. Now he describes himself: "I still want everything to be precise, but I am already much easier." Being soft does not mean abandoning the principle, but doing things well within the scope of ability. Others, he tries to learn to relax, to let go, and make himself to be more flexible.
The most admirable thing in KiOSK is the plan of the interior, which was lacking in Flat White Cafe. Leaving space blank and no unnecessary decoration which make coffee itself and people become the main roles in the cafe. It is the plan that has been established before Phil re-started. "The seating area against the wall where the tables have to be shared with strangers is unusual in Taiwan. The plan for this seat is not something that Asians are used to but in Europe. Let people come and stay here to enjoy life and a cup of coffee."
However, Phil often hears that the guests are not used to the seat arrangement. "They usually get up and move the table after sitting down. They move the table to the front, so they don't feel awkward." "Will you correct them?" "Of course not, but I will stare at those who move the table." After that, Phil smils and laughs at himself about his poker face.
Remarks: European cafes often place the seats in the same direction for outdoor tables. Especially in the winter, most of the seats are facing the sun, facing plazas or facing streets, so that even if you stay only for a coffee, you can enjoy a coffee sunbath, moreover, have a wider view.
Ideally, when you reach a certain level, you must make concessions with reality; but this does not mean compromising your standards. For example, when cafés provide pastries and meals that are needed by the market, then it is important to adhere to the quality of food. Therefore, the first floor of KiOSK is the café, and the baking room in the basement is responsible for the other half business. Remember that the #OliveLemonCheeseCake I mentioned at the beginning of the article, as well as other popular pastries in the store?
"The cakes we buy from the baking shop have a very long storage life, but the cakes we bake at home have only a few days of tasting; what is the difference? I don't like to be involved troubles because of buying cakes from others. I would rather know what ingredients the cake is made of.
Because of the season, the team spends a lot of time preparing all pastries; therefore KiOSK sets a rule that everyone must order a least one drink in the shop. Maybe some people feel embarrassed at first, but since it is a coffee shop, it is quite reasonable to order a drink, isn't it?
KiOSK's clean and fresh design is popular with the public; these are the representation of Phil's most desirable atmosphere about a coffee shop. So, how about the waiters? Does Phil has any basic requirement or offers training for the waiters? The frequent enlisting notice on the KiOSK Facebook Fan page gives me some ideas.
"Opening a cafe seems to be a dream of most people now. It seems that as long as the store is opened, life will go to a better level. Similarly, young people who come to apply for waiters often have an incorrect understanding." Speaking of this, Phil's expression is serious. "This is a job that repeats the same work in different situations. Not only the preparation before the opening hours, but the staff should also be alert when customers look around the store. Get ready and respond appropriately. "
I understand Phil's point of view, but it's not easy. I have been working in the restaurants during my university time. I know that as a waiter should react quickly and positively. It is not easy only if you are familiar with the human character. If you don't invest yourself in the job, the cruel reality must repulse you.
"Further, I hope that the service staff has great empathy with our guests. How can we welcome our guests? In other words, if we go to other coffee shops, what service will we expect from others? We all hope to get comfortable service. Empathy is the key." It is the real way of marketing. Not to mention that making hundreds of cups of coffee a day. It is not enough only having romantic feelings.
When the market demands cafés to have beautiful interior design and photogenic dessert, Phil offers all these expectations with his standards, and he has not forgotten his original spirit. "Many guests come to the bar to see the process of brewing coffee, ask for coffee beans, ask for implements, I know this is after the coffee wave; but since this is my coffee shop, I will welcome guests in my way."
The interview had to end. On this Saturday morning business day, guests are already standing at the door looking forward to visiting KiOSK. I take the advantage that I am already in the store and choose my favorite seat, the area against the wall. I ask Phil to prepare a cup of coffee that he would also make for himself. "Kenya, I will bring Kenya to Noah's Ark when the earth is going to be destroyed." I remember the elegant mug in his hand, which I read in the column of Hally Chen. No matter the thickness of the cup, the touch on the curve of the cup is very comfortable, the arc of the of the cup is just right for drinking, it is a good cup for enjoying coffee slowly.
I taste the freshly made coffee; meanwhile, I reminisce about the conversation with Phil. In a blink, the coffee shop is crowded, which is just less than ten minutes after opening the door. After a while, a familiar face dressed in black appears at the door. Isn't this the teacher of Qingzhi Lee? Mr. Lee was one of the professors of my University. The memories of those years of hard work come to my mind. Mr. Lee asks me about my life, and we exchange contact information. "Mr. Lee comes to visit us often. He is very kind to us." Phil tells me afterward.
I have been pondering this interview for a long time; whether it is a personal description of Phil, the conversation between us, or my impression of KiOSK, I hope to present its real expression through my observations. It is my first time interviewing a coffee shop without taking a picture of coffee or cakes. I asked Phil before our interview if he wanted to recommend any item from the menu, I could take photos and present to readers.
"No, we don't have any main item; these prizes are the guests have given us." I appreciate Phil's professionalism and his enthusiasm for work. It is the best attitude of an artist.