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Steve Chang of Copa Vida on Building Organic Community in Coffee Shops Interview with Copa Vida Owner Steve Chang about building community, the "Go. Enjoy. Experience." mantra, and how technology helps restaurants adapt.

By Shawn P. Walchef

Key Takeaways

  • Coffee Shops and Community - Steve Chang believes that the most hospitable way to build community is to create spaces where community can build itself. It is important to him that Copa Vida’s product is not polarizing to customers, but rather a neutral offering that allows for organic relationships to form.
  • "Go. Enjoy. Experience." - This is a mantra of Copa Vida. For Steve Chang, coffee is more than hot liquid in a cup. He is inspired by the stories behind each brew and hopes that Copa Vida customers will do the same.
  • New Restaurant Technology - As Copa Vida has grown and continues to expand, the need for accurate data has as well. Steve Change believes in being a hands-on manager, but it has become quite the task with the growing number of Copa Vida locations. So the need for technology like Toast has also grown.
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Steve Chang, owner of Copa Vida, has a unique perspective on building community through coffee shops. He believes that a cafe like Copa Vida should serve as a gathering space; where a community can organically form by allowing people to connect on their own accord.

The coffee shop chain CEO emphasizes that while a coffee shop can set the stage, it is the people who ultimately build and shape the community.

As a hospitality professional, the goal of the founder and CEO of Copa Vida is not to convince everyone to get along at his coffee shops, but rather to provide a neutral environment where diverse individuals can connect over a shared love for drinks and food.

"I don't believe that a coffee shop builds community. I think a coffee shop is a place where community is built." says Steve Chang to Shawn Walchef of CaliBBQ Media. "Our job is to actually help provide a place and product where people can easily link up."

At Copa Vida, he is inspired by the stories behind each cup of coffee. For Chang, the drink represents more than a hot beverage — it embodies depth, purpose, and a powerful story.

He encourages customers to not just consume coffee but to personalize the Copa Vida mantra of "Go, Enjoy, Experience" through the stories and cultural significance embedded within each cup.

As Copa Vida continues to grow and expand, Chang recognizes the need for data-driven decision-making. While he values the hands-on approach of management, it becomes increasingly challenging with multiple locations. To bridge this gap, Copa Vida is transitioning to Toast, a comprehensive restaurant management technology platform.

"You have to depend on data. Data that's driven to you, data that's made easy to access, but also to understand data that shows you a true picture." says Chang.

Steve Chang's approach to building community through coffee shops emphasizes the role of individuals in creating meaningful connections. His passion for the stories behind each cup of coffee drives his vision of creating an experience that goes beyond taste.

Through his leadership, the restaurant leader aims to cultivate a welcoming environment where people can share in the richness of coffee and build connections that extend beyond the coffee shop's walls.



Restaurant Influencers is brought to you by Toast, the powerful restaurant point of sale and management system that helps restaurants improve operations, increase sales and create a better guest experience.

Toast — Powering Successful Restaurants. Learn more about Toast.

Shawn P. Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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