SAN DIEGO — A Chinese-American family of baristas is serving more than just coffee in San Diego’s Grantville neighborhood. Three sisters’ goal of helping their mother turned their American dream into a reality.
Despite opening their new drive-thru building three days before the initial COVID-19 lockdown in March of 2020, it’s business as usual at S3 Coffee Bar: the coffee is brewing and business is booming.
“We never knew that this was going to become something so special to us,” Claudia Kwong told FOX 5.
Kwong is one of three sisters — or S3, the namesake of this coffeeshop. But in fact, they had little to no experience in the barista arena when they opened.
“We basically just winged everything,” Kwong said. “We’re like, well how do you do this? Well, let’s Google it.”
Instead, S3 was birthed out of love for their Chinese mother, “Mama May.”
“Me growing up with Asian parents that didn’t really speak English 100%, it is hard to find a job,” Kwong said. “It’s very known between them and their friends to always open up their own businesses, because if you can’t find one, then you can create one.”
“We were looking for a job for my mom and she couldn’t find a job so we’re like, we’ll just open up a coffee shop,” Kwong added.
The start of their American dream was sparked by getting their hands dirty and putting in grueling hours themselves — traits they learned from their parents.
“Definitely no days off,” Kwong said. “I grew up seeing my parents work from opening to close every day. You are cleaning the bathroom, mopping the floor, taking out the trash.”
And so, 63-year-old “Mama May” went to work alongside her daughters, and as it turns out, Kwong — who is full-blooded Chinese but born in Mexico — found that being trilingual was a necessity in her fast-paced workplace.
In the beginning, there were six employees, four of which were from the Kwong family. Today, they have nearly 30 workers. Nothing could have prepared S3 or “Mama May” for their American dream to create opportunities for their community.
“I know that we wanted to open it to provide a job for my mom and now we’re providing it for the community, which is something that is so surreal for me,” Kwong said.
It’s a recipe for the American dream: hard work and no days off.