Meet Sung Park: The Triple Shot Threat of Christchurch’s Café Scene

Christchurch cafe owner Sung Park drinking a coffee in the sun-drenched space of Akin

Operating one successful business in the hospitality sector is no mean feat – but managing three thriving establishments? Well, that’s something else. Sung Park, together with his wife Jenny, is the mastermind behind Christchurch’s beloved café trio: Lux, Doubles and Akin.

Words by: Maggie Worthington

Photos by: Nancy Zhou

So, how does he do it? Oat flat white drinker Maggie Worthington sat down with Sung to uncover his secrets to success, from the importance of a loyal team and making friends with your customers, to dreamy design choices and the fundamentals of a good coffee experience.

Customers walking into Lux Espresso next to CoCA gallery in Christchurch

Tell us a bit about how you got into coffee and the hospitality scene.
I grew up with my family owning a restaurant in Korea, so hospitality has been ingrained in me from a young age. According to my parents I've wanted to be in the industry since I was young, stating "I'm going to open my own shop when I'm older".

I met my wife Jenny in 2013 and she happened to have similar dreams and aspirations. Jenny then trained as a baker while we continued to gain hospitality experience in various styles and environments. Eventually after gaining a good amount of knowledge and experience we decided to take the next step and open our own business. As Jenny had incredible talent in the kitchen it was on my shoulders to create a good rapport with customers and offer a high standard of coffee. We both found inspiration from local cafés/restaurants and even managed to create some strong friendships with other local business owners.

You have three successful cafés in Christchurch. What’s the secret?
I've found that staff is one of the most important aspects in hospitality. The staff we currently have, and most of our past staff, have been instrumental in creating a healthy and relaxed environment not only for customers but also the staff themselves.

At all locations Jenny, the team and I work tirelessly to strengthen our relationships with our customer base. This has a great impact on determining what offerings are the most beneficial at each location. For example, you'll find the food offering at Doubles to be 80% gluten free due to our customers making us aware that there was a lack of options in the area. The communication our staff have with our customers keeps us up to date with current wants and needs whether it be allergen or trend related.

While staff and customers are two of the most important factors (in my opinion), I'd say that the one "secret" ingredient we've had at all locations are the two people we've been lucky enough to work with when it comes to branding and aesthetic: Scott Bolton (brand designer) and Johnstone Callaghan (architect). They've helped us create a different aesthetic/vibe at each café while still staying true to our minimal, clean and comfortable specifications.

How do you ensure that all three establishments maintain their quality offering over time?
I'm lucky enough to have some truly amazing café managers at each location. Jenny and I have had to be completely transparent with our managers when it comes to our vision for each location to ensure we all have the same understanding of the standard that we want to offer.

We also have great appreciation for the customers who help us quality control and keep us updated on their experiences. Our mentality around feedback from customers is that we treat opinions as opportunities to problem solve and rectify a situation. We not only aim to continuously learn and improve ourselves but also ask that our whole team does the same. We’ve found the best way to accomplish this is to accept that mistakes happen but have open conversations on how to prevent the same situation in the future.

What is unique about each of your cafés?
Initially I found that Lux was the perfect hideaway for customers, with its low lighting and modern yet industrial interior. Our customers can quietly go about their day without feeling on show while they enjoy a coffee and treat which creates a really positive overall vibe. Now with the museum having moved into CoCA, we’re noticing a bit more hustle and bustle – but I still feel like we’ve been able to maintain a serene atmosphere.

Doubles is somewhat of the opposite to Lux when it comes to the aesthetic. I’d say one of the unique things I love about Doubles is the relationships we’ve cultivated with our regular customers. Not only have we had the same manager from day one, but we’ve also had a lot of the same customers too. It makes it a really fun place to work and catch up with everyone (even if I sometimes get told off for sitting down and chatting to customers for too long!).

Akin was my (and Jenny’s) first opportunity to open a café “from scratch” with the confidence of having opened Doubles and having success with Lux. It gave us the opportunity to try some new offerings that I had been interested in for a while! I love the speed, flavour and availability of the filter coffee we have on offer there (and I like to help myself to it when I pop in). We also introduced Christchurch to einspänner (hot espresso topped with cool whipped cream) which has been an absolute hit!

What do you love about coffee?
I love that a coffee is never just a coffee. I am a big fan of coffee in general but what I find to be even better is the company and sweet treat that accompanies it.

What makes a good coffee?
I believe the overall coffee experience determines a “good coffee” rather than your typical “coffee criteria”. This includes the aesthetic and cleanliness of the cup your coffee comes in, the speed in which you get your coffee, the care and service in which your coffee is delivered to you, and so on. As well as the usual flavour, temperature, and texture, I find that if these other fundamental aspects aren’t executed properly, it can leave an even nastier taste in your mouth than a bad coffee.

How do you select your coffee supplier?
We were lucky enough to buy Lux from Allpress Espresso itself, so through that process we developed a relationship with our supplier. We’ve been approached by other suppliers and it’s always tempting to support something a little closer to home – but honestly? We’re incredibly happy with the Allpress flavour profile as well as the support and training they’ve made available to us.

Jenny and I are both big coffee drinkers so we’re aware of all the other great options out there but we just can’t go past Allpress… As much as we love going out to other cafés, we always end up back at one of our own for a coffee.

What inspires the aesthetic of your cafés?
Lux was already established when we bought it 8 years ago, but luckily enough it fit our clean and minimal aesthetic.

Doubles was our first opportunity to have some real say in the aesthetic of our café. We decided to work with both Scott Bolton (branding) and Johnstone Callaghan Architects to bring our vision to life. Doubles has a subtle tennis theme which embraces the feel of an open space with clean lines, the texture of concrete as well as muted greens. To this day we’re still amazed at how great it all turned out – it even won an architecture award!

With the design of Doubles having gone so well, the pressure for Akin was immense. But once again, with the help of Scott and Johnstone Callaghan we believe we absolutely nailed it! We wanted to go for a warmer approach this time around with some added softness which would contrast Doubles while still feeling like one of our own.

To me, coffee on a Sunday morning is the epitome of living. What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday in Christchurch?
I usually go around the cafés making sure everyone is okay, grab a coffee and head to the golf course. If I’ve played a good game and I make it back to town at a reasonable hour, Jenny and I might have time to try out a new spot for lunch but more often than not, I don’t make it back in time!

When you're not at the cafés or drinking coffee, what’s on the menu?
During the day it’s rare that we aren’t at one of our cafés. The only chance we get to eat away from them is probably in the evening. Jenny is the chef in our house but after spending most days stuck in a kitchen, she doesn’t often feel like cooking so we usually find ourselves going out for meals. We love all cuisines and have probably tried almost all of the restaurants in Christchurch. We are both partial to a bottle of soju with friends at our favourite karaoke venue, Gogi.

What does the future look like for you and your café trifecta? Anything exciting planned?
Right now all we have are ideas and inspiration. There are a few things that are a possibility for us in the future but with the success of our other cafés we want to make sure that we’re making the right decision! So sadly no teasers at this time – but I can assure you that Akin won’t be our last endeavour…

We can’t leave you without the most important question. What’s your coffee order?
My most ordered coffee is a flat white – you just can’t go past it. However, I do believe it’s important to have a good understanding of the flavour and texture of all coffees, so don’t be surprised if you see me with a black filter or a cheeky oat latte!

Akin Café

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235 High Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch

Akin is as clean-cut as a café can be. Situated in the heart of the Christchurch CBD at the high end of High Street, this is a café created by designers and architects, and it shows. The minimalist interiors breathe a sense of sophistication in the space where nothing unnecessary exists. The walls are bare with purposeful paint brush marks as the only touch of texture, the floor is concrete and wooden tables are paired with black chairs.

Lux Espresso

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66 Gloucester Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch

Positioned in the entrance of CoCA Gallery, Lux Espresso has a contemporary design and a wholesome breakfast and lunch menu.

Doubles

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62 Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch

Game, set, match! In a sunny spot on Worcester Boulevard, this tennis-themed café with a gram-worthy brunch menu is the new King of the Court. A self-titled ‘house of refreshments’, the crew at Doubles sure know how to serve the goods. 

Two words describe the decor at Doubles: bright and fresh. A light-filled clean white space, accented with soft forest green tiles and weatherboard detail, and just the right amount of leafy indoor plants.

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