A Korea-based coffee chain quietly opened its first permanent U.S. outpost in the Ballston neighborhood last month, drawing long lines and rave reviews.
Although Gute Leute translates to “good people” in German, the coffee chain was conceived in Seoul, South Korea.
The cafe’s menu offers a variety of teas and coffee drinks, including espressos and lattes. A unique highlight is a weekend-only, three-course tasting event, available only with a reservation.
Dubbed the “Omakase” coffee experience, which translates to ‘I leave it up to you’ in Japanese, customers who book online can savor a variety of seasonal espresso drinks, including the Pine Cone, served in a sour sugar-rimmed glass, the Granita with lemon sorbet, and the Gute Leute, a blend of cream and cookies over a butterscotch base.
Sang Moon, a Fairfax resident and co-owner of Gute Leute, told ARLnow he was one of the original investors of the coffee chain back when it first opened in Seoul in 2021. Five Gute Leute stores are currently operating in Seoul, according to Sang.
After working with company’s corporate headquarters for years, Sang said he approached the CEO about bringing the concept to the U.S.
“It was a little bit unique,” he said. “We have nothing similar here.”
At the behest of the company’s CEO, Sang and his business partner, Sean Moon, conducted multiple market tests — pop-up cafes — in New York City last year.
“It was very successful,” Sang said.
Having successfully demonstrated the viability of the concept in the U.S. market, Sang was given the green light by the Gute Leute CEO to open his own franchise in Arlington.
It appears to have been a good decision so far: over the weekend the cafe’s Instagram account warned of 20-45 minute waits for coffee due to a “surge of customers.” That’s despite opening with little fanfare during the holidays, on the “quiet” western side of Glebe Road, where businesses have struggled in the past.
Despite complaints about the wait, online reviews have raved about “some of the best coffee” in the D.C. area.
While Gute Leute currently only offers coffee, Sang says the plan is to add pastries to the menu soon.
“Right now, we’re trying to focus on quality and service,” he said. “But we plan to offer croissants, breakfast sandwiches and pastries.”
Before Gute Leute, Sang operated the Korean fried chicken restaurant Noori Chicken in Annandale, which closed last week. He also co-owns the quick-serve Courthouse restaurant Bibimix with Sean, who himself owns the Korean bakery Paris Baguette in Fairfax.
Gute Leute joins a growing list of coffee options in the Ballston area, including the upcoming Roggenart Bistro & Café, the outdoor stand Ballstonian, and Slipstream, near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and Glebe Road.
Hat tip to John Peck
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