We had the good fortune of connecting with Chelsea Khakshouri and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chelsea, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
When asked what made me decide to open a coffee and matcha shop, I often jokingly respond “stupidity”. What I really mean by this is that, possibly for the first time in my life, I allowed for a diversion from the path I had set myself on. In a very unlike me move, I didn’t overthink it – it was a decision made though a combination of a presented opportunity, gut instinct, and passion.
Chitchat’s inception came while I was studying to receive my master’s at UCLA with the intention of pursuing a PhD afterward. As many people do when starting their own business, I took a risk and poured myself into it to make it work. Chitchat opened the same month I graduated, so you can imagine the stress I was under as I finished off my master’s research project and simultaneously launched a business. I was scared I’d regret not immediately continuing with my PhD as planned, but I felt inspired and took action. I’ve learned that opportunities to do something deeply satisfying are easily missed when you are unwilling to be flexible with your path.
Creating a space like Chitchat with offerings that I could proudly stand behind hits on many of the aspects of my life that excite me most – bringing people together, creating an atmosphere, curating quality products, creativity in everything from design to flavor combinations, and bringing a moment of joy to people’s days through small acts. I witnessed how coffee can be a small “act” with the potential to turn your day around (or at least bring a moment of peace and pleasure) while studying abroad in Melbourne, where the coffee culture is incredible. When I returned, strong Japanese influences in my life led me to discover matcha as a coffee alternative with its own merits that I quickly became obsessed with. The amalgamation of all these things, which are very true and authentic to me, is what made me decide to pursue Chitchat.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about.
There may be places you go to get a coffee, and others that you trust for good matcha. There was no shop with a menu offering both with equal attention. Chitchat Coffee & Matcha is unique in that it can be your go-to spot whether you’re craving a coffee kick or a smooth, matcha energy boost. More importantly, however, we’re an anomaly in that we don’t sacrifice quality in our pursuit of creative and delicious drinks. We reject the sometimes snobbish attitude of coffee culture and prove that unique flavor combinations and yes, even instagram friendly lattes, can be meticulously crafted with the finest quality.
If you’re a purist, you can depend on us for the classics. For those in the mood for something more, our specialty drinks are always thoughtfully crafted and never lacking in quality. To make out Cinnamon Toast Crunch Oat Milk Latte, we steep the cereal in oat milk overnight, strain it, and use the cereal milk as the base of your latte. A favorite specialty matcha choice at the moment is our Strawberry Macadamia Milk Matcha Latte, which is made with our 100% first-flush, ceremonial grade, single-origin and organic matcha, coming from a 130-year-old, family-run, traditional tea house in Japan where a 10th level chasi (tea master) curates our blend.
An important note about our matcha, which sets us apart from other shops who advertise “Ceremonial Grade Matcha”, is that we only use first-flush. First-flush matcha is made from the year’s first harvest of leaves in the Spring, after all the nourishment and nutrients have been collected and stored by the plant while it is dormant during the Winter. This is when you get the most nutrients, antioxidants, and caffeine. Later flushes can still be considered “ceremonial grade”, but have a fraction of the benefits. It also has 3x more L-theanine than even second flush, which is where most of matcha’s health benefits come from and what gives high quality matcha its umami (and non-bitter) flavor. You’ll notice the vibrant green color and the ridiculously smooth, creamy, and delicious taste.
We love being about high standards without the fuss and don’t believe that excellent quality means your space should feel sterile or cold. All of the attention to detail and meticulous care is done behind the scenes so that when you enter the shop, you feel welcomed by an approachable, fun, inviting space and a delicious drink. Coming to Chitchat is an opportunity for a small win – the soul warming latte and a place you feel comfortable settling into and spending some time. Whether you’re gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, and so on, we have something for you, from our drink menu, pastries, grab n’ go, breakfast burritos, and more.
How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
My business partners and I are all first-time business owners and have figured everything out for ourselves as we have gone along. We often had no idea what we were doing – getting permits through the city, obtaining an employer identification number, understanding power voltage needs, and so on. The biggest take away is that dedication and resourcefulness can get you incredibly far despite a lack of experience. I was twenty-four at the time and taking meetings with architects, potential matcha wholesalers from Japan, and interviewing prospective employees in an industry I had no experience in. My legitimacy only came through throwing myself into every aspect of the business and being determined to become the most knowledgeable on any related topic.
When we first opened, I was so obsessive about how every single ordered drink was made that I hardly let any of our hired baristas actually do their jobs, making all the drinks myself instead. Any time I stepped out of the shop for a break, I’d watch the cameras from my phone to see how the employees made every drink, if they put too much ice, didn’t whisk the matcha long enough, as so on. This level of obsessiveness was unhealthy, certainly, but it felt so good to care about what I was doing to that extent. It was the feeling I had longed for and the validation I needed that I had made the right choice in postponing my academic career. It’s a lot easier to have success when you care this much.
We recently did a practice for marketing purposes where we imagined our business as a person – what is their personality? What “character” or role are they? I wrote something out and realized that I had essentially described myself. This was perplexing but also, so very satisfying. I have put a piece of myself into this business and believe that putting yourself out there in this way lends an authenticity to the business that customers pick up on. To this day, everything you see is done entirely be us – from our branding, social media, menu creation, product sourcing, and yes, we even are all part-time baristas mostly because we can’t pass up the opportunity to interact with our customers. As we look to expand and hope to eventually outsource some of these jobs as we grow, we recognize that our involvement on every level is what makes our brand feel authentic and personal. We hope to never loose that touch.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The one-two-punch effect of dinner and a concert is one that’s not to be missed in Los Angeles, where we have amazing venues, performers, and food. A show at my favorite, the Greek Theatre, followed by a seat at the pizza bar of Pizzeria Mozza is an excellent combination, especially when burrata and butterscotch budino are involved. My favorite way to experience the Hollywood Bowl is with a visit to Bay Cities Italian Deli beforehand and box seats, so you can enjoy the show while eating your baguette, cheese, meats and wine picnic style. Whether you are into classical music or not, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a magnificent experience. Seeing LA Phil perform there is magical, or at least I’ve been forced to believe so by my classical music obsessed husband, but you can catch other genres of music too – seeing Moby in that venue was was sensational. One of my favorite combos for an excellent evening is following up a performance there with dinner at my favorite restaurant in the city, KaGaYa. This Little Tokyo restaurant is the quintessential Japanese shabu shabu meal, and can be a bit of a splurge if you get the wagyu option (which you definitely should), but it is very worth it. I love the feeling of being transported to Japan and having an authentic dining experience.
Any itinerary I create for a visiting friend is likely to revolve around dining at my favorite spots that take you around the city and allow you to experience the multi-cultural divinity of LA’s food scene. Some of my other favorites include Felix, Jitlada, Langer’s, Raffi’s Place, Gjusta, Nobu, All Time, and Apple Pan.
There are a lot of new and trendy spots people may recommend, but they don’t always hit the spot for me. I prefer sticking to the classics – Chateau Marmont or Tower Bar always do the trick. They may not be my favorite food destinations, but you’re here for the Los Angeles experience and I’m easily satisfied with a delicious martini, pigs in a blanket, and a diverse cast of characters surrounding me. It’s the quintessential Hollywood atmosphere and an excellent way to start or end a night.
In terms of more social activities, I’ve always found Los Angeles to be the home of superior house and dinner parties. I think visitors may be disappointed if they head to clubs and bars in Los Angeles just to get shooed out around closing at 1:30 or 2am. Plus, house or dinner parties allow you to actually get to meet and engage with new people. My fiancé and I love hosting, so whenever we have a friend in town, we invite people to come over for dinner and drinks, which often turns into an open door with dozens and dozens of people coming and going as we dance the night away. There’s something exciting about not knowing the direction the night will go or who will walk through the door next.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My best friend Ashley, who also happens to be my sister, business partner and most trusted ally in all things work and life.
Yelp: Chitchat Coffee & Matcha