USC Alumni Yesenia Avalos owns Koffee Koala, a local coffee shop in the Cayce Crossing shopping center that prioritizes creating a one-of-a-kind and efficient experience for customers.
Located directly off the interstate, this hole-in-the-wall shop appears unassuming. Its interior is small, with only a few chairs and a window to place your order. Despite the small building, the owners' priority is to deliver quality with their expansive menu and personable service.
The shop, equipped with a drive-thru, serves locally-roasted coffee, including cold brews made in-house, as well as smoothies, energy drink concoctions, freshly-made breakfast sandwiches, muffins and more.
The shop was opened in September 2021 by Avalos and co-owner John "JT" Thrash III. The team took over the location from a previous bakery with the help of a friend, a local roaster, who stayed on to roast for Koffee Koala. Thrash said the growth has been exciting.
"Every step of the way we make things more efficient. There's been a lot of change," Thrash said.
The shop’s menu started out with limited options — no food, and very basic coffee ingredients, which resulted in few sales at first. Trash said they started off small, but their objective was always to grow and expand the limits of producing high-quality food and drink in such a compact space.
“We’re maxed out at what we can do as far as making (the process) more fluid without getting a machine that just makes a drink from start to finish,” Thrash said.
During morning rush hour, baristas will go outside and take drive-thru orders in advance to speed up the process, which Thrash feels is especially useful when customers are just stopping for coffee on their way to work.
Third-year information technology student Mason Malerba said he’s gotten in and out of Koffee Koala much faster than he would at a busy Starbucks near campus. He visited the shop once with a friend who, not being a coffee drinker, opted for a “Koala Charger,” an energy drink mixed with fruit flavoring and half and half.
“I thought that was a cool idea because you don’t really see those a lot in coffee places,” Malerba said.
Speed is an important element of any successful drive-thru business, but according to Thrash, customer service is a large part of what distinguishes Koffee Koala from other coffee shops. When people pass through on the interstate looking for a coffee shop, they will often see Koffee Koala’s reviews and stop in.
Being able to get creative with your order and have a personal interaction with a barista encourages people to keep coming back for more. Thrash said that oftentimes customers already know what they want to order in the drive-thru before they reach the menu.
“All of our customers are returning customers. We have a personal relationship with our customers,” Precious Glenn, a barista at Koffee Koala said.
A new Starbucks location is set to open across the street from the shop, but Thrash isn’t worried about competition. He said Koffee Koala's clientele is different than Starbucks,' and people will always be looking for their local spot.
"It would be like going to McDonald's, and then going to a local hamburger place. They're two different things. People are looking for two different ideas," Thrash said.
Koffee Koala provides an online ordering option on its website and delivery through DoorDash. Customers can visit Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.