At Cafe La La in Coralville, owner Deokhee Hwang laughed with happiness as she explained what she loves about running a coffee shop.
Her son Jaeho Lee translated for her from Korean. “She likes interacting with people. The coffee shop helps her to interact. Coffee provides something to people,” he said.
The family moved to Iowa from Seoul, South Korea, when Lee was in high school. Now a university student, he is taking a year off to work on a sound art project and is helping his mother run the cafe as manager.
Hwang used to teach a Korean cooking class at the University of Iowa, and people suggested she open a restaurant of her own. When the cafe location that formerly housed SheBrews Coffee became available in June, she saw her opportunity. She decided to start with a coffee shop and still hopes to open a full-service Korean restaurant in the future.
She bakes the cafe’s pastries each morning and recently added a Korean barbecue sandwich and other food to the menu of pour-over coffee, teas, smoothies and bubble teas.
Learning the ins and outs of the different espresso drinks took some time, Lee said.
“When we started, we made mistakes, and now we are doing really well. We’re thankful to the customers who were patient and came back,” he said.
An artist, Hwang’s paintings hang on the walls. The airy cafe is filled with plants, and bright rows of cotton candy-filled containers sit behind the counter, ready to be turned into confectionary ice cream treats. The dessert case features homemade tiramisu and cake topped with fresh fruit.
“She wanted a natural feeling, a healing space,” Lee said.
Hwang’s husband suggested the name for the cafe.
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“Other people suggested lots of names, but none were attractive,” Lee said. “‘La La’ has a similar meaning in English or Korean. It’s happy, it’s a positive humming sound, it’s singing.”
WHAT: Cafe La La
WHERE: 1150 Fifth St., Suite 130, Coralville
HOURS: 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
DETAILS: (319) 855-0836