Early on in my stay (April 2010), I was still getting myself situated, and ended up going to more chains than independent shops. So, the next review is again of a chain. And a somewhat notorious one at that…
It started out quite benignly, actually. As I mentioned in my previous post, I went to Zoo Coffee in Suji because it was near my friend’s place. My friend’s brother, meanwhile, lived in Seoul, in Apgujeong. And right across the street from his apartment, just down under his balcony, was a new café that was starting to spread around town. And my friend’s brother, an aspiring barista, was really enthusiastic about it. So down we went to Caffé Bene.
This Caffé Bene in Apgujeong was one of the original stores in this new natively Korean chain. It has a prime, heavily foot-trafficked location on Rodeo Drive. It has two floors and a wide selection of drinks and gelato. And, importantly to my friend’s brother, it was a great place for people-watching. In other words, girl-watching. Yes, some of the hottest girls in Seoul would hang out along this street and visit this café. And hey, the coffee seemed good at the time, the café had a great vibe, and it was very comfortable too. So at the time I was very pleased with Caffé Bene and tried to visit this one whenever in Apgujeong. And I would tried to visit others around town whenever I saw them, since they were familiar at a time when I was getting settled. So, 4 stars at the time.
But eventually, things changed. Big time. It was a slow change, actually. For one, I started to realize the sheer quantity of independent shops around. I’m not anti-chain per se, without good reason, but I always do prefer the independent shop and try to support it. But upon discovering other chains and independent shops, my preferences started to change. And, I realized that Caffé Bene’s coffee was actually not that good. Their iced shake drinks, called Frappes, are alright, but mochas and lattes and stuff, not so much. The gelato is still great though.
Also, Caffé Bene started to spread. And expand. And eventually they were multiplying like bunnies! Every day it seemed there was a new Caffé Bene in a new neighborhood. Sometimes two Caffé Benes in a neighborhood. In Gangnam, even, I saw two of them one block away from each other! It was worse than the expansion of Starbucks in Seattle in the 1990s! Much worse, it seemed. And much more noticeable, probably, due to the high population density in Korea. Among my friends, we often commented, wow, another Caffé Bene. Some of us started to call them Caffé Cockroach! Independent stores started to get worried, and people started to get worried about the independent stores.
Then, in early 2011, word came out that they were opening their first store in the US! In New York City. Nothing wrong with that; good for them, really. But amazing, and kind of scary, the speed at which it happened. As of this writing, July 2012, Caffé Bene is promoting the opening this month of their first store in Los Angeles. And if you look at their US website, you’ll see this image with their plans to expand throughout southeast Asia.
And then, when seeing another new Caffé Bene was leaving a bad taste in my mouth, a new concept by Caffé Bene started to appear in late 2011. In at least two prominent locations in Seoul, they started to unveil their new restaurant called Blacksmith. They opened Blacksmith; I never went there. Then they hid the fact that they were associated with Caffé Bene. And started to multiply like bunnies. Hmmmmmmm.
And as for the Rodeo Drive girls? Well, eventually I realized that they weren’t as pretty as at first they seemed. As I got used to seeing all the types of Korean faces, styles, and personalities, Rodeo Drive girls seemed more and more artificial and unattractive. They’re initially impressive but not for the long term. So there went another reason to go to Apgujeong’s Caffé Bene. ^^
So, I might go once in a blue moon, if nothing else good is around. And I’m thankful to their gelato, which revived me once when I wasn’t feeling too well. Just be more reasonable in your expansion, Caffé Bene, and don’t trample the independents!
Here’s the rest of my Caffé Bene photo collection:
US website: http://www.caffebene.com
The, um, architecturally interesting Korean website landing page: http://www.caffebene.co.kr
Final verdict: **