Somewhere in the dark, churning barrel between coffee’s first and third wave—between the days of Folgers Crystals and single-origin pour-over—coffee became a luxury. “A cup of coffee was once much cheaper,” says Tony Konecny. “It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t expected to be.” Konecny is behind the Mix, the trademark coffee blend at Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s community-driven fast-food restaurant, LocoL, based in Watts. Along with $2 foldies and $4 fried chicken sandwiches, LocoL’s most popular item might be its brew, offered black or “sweet and creamy” for just a buck.
LocoL isn’t the first convenience-food company trying to capture a slice of America’s $48 billion coffee industry. McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts both tout the quality of their joe—and legions of devotees would agree. But one sip of Konecny’s blend and there’s no denying its artisanal appeal. The taste—balanced, rich, and designed to mimic the drinkability of the best diner coffee—is the result of expert sourcing and the skill of Konecny’s lead roaster, Sumi Ali.
It was Choi and Patterson who first challenged Konecny to create a “buck-a-cup” brew, but the Midwest native sees this as a continuation of his career-long mission to make coffee more approachable. In 2007, Konecny left Intelligentsia Silver Lake and later launched his direct-to-consumer coffee subscription service, Tonx. “There’s this pervasive notion in third-wave coffee that you need fancy equipment or an engineering mind-set to get a decent cup,” he says. With Tonx, Konecny set out to show that quality beans are enough. By the time he sold his company to San Francisco’s Blue Bottle in 2014, Konecny had put Tonx coffee in tens of thousands of kitchens nationwide.
Konecny hopes his work with LocoL will have an even larger impact. “The Mix could be a gateway drug into the world of high-end coffee,” he says. But while Konecny has cut costs at LocoL through waste reduction, careful sourcing, and a long-game bet on volume (he is reticent about specifics), one thing he’s not trying to do is show that coffee is overpriced. He just wants more people to have access to the good stuff. “We’re not interested in taking on Starbucks yet or undercutting our friends’ coffee bars,” says Konecny. “But I am interested in pushing coffee into new places and reaching new people.”