Some places have such big personalities that they almost seem alive. Take, for instance, stories such as Alice in Wonderland or Howl’s Moving Castle with settings so colorful that they become their own character. On rare occasions, you may find a location like those in real life. San Jose’s K-Café is absolutely one of them.
If K-Café Patisserie and Tea House were a person, it would be a hardcore girly girl—dressed to the nines with a fierce devotion to all things sparkly and pink. When a first-timer encounters it, there’s a noticeable doubletake. Almost reflexively, patrons’ phones pop out to document every last inch of the room’s blush pink furniture, glittery wall art, and, most importantly, the ceiling—a Sistine Chapel of ornamentation awash with silk flowers, gilded birdcages, golden branches, and no less than ten crystal chandeliers.
“When people walk in, they need to be wowed,” says owner Kayla Dinh, adding that the décor contrasts drastically with the aesthetic of the previous owners. “When we got this space, it was empty. Everything was gray colored so we painted the whole interior and exterior pink… I always wanted to have a really happy place.”
You might not guess it by looking at it, but despite the café’s charm and substantial female following, the shop was not an overnight success. K-Café has undergone significant obstacles in order to keep its doors open and become the thriving business you see today.
The Shop’s Early Days
Seeking to bring a taste of Vietnam’s outdoor café culture to the Bay Area, Kayla opened K-Café’s doors back in December 2019. When the 2020 shelter-in-place mandate brought the world to a screeching halt just months after her café’s grand opening, Kayla found that her shop hadn’t been open long enough to qualify for government aid. After temporarily closing the café’s doors for six months, she reopened—only to close again when the smoke from the 2020 wildfires made Santa Clara County’s outdoor dining requirements unappealing to customers.
“We only had three people working here,” Kayla recalls. “All our employees left because they could see the business going down.” Fortuitously, K-Café’s owner has tenacity in spades (after all, she launched four successful businesses by the age of 30…and she did it without the support of her family, who thought she should find a more secure job). Determined to keep her new shop alive, she worked for free, eating tens of thousands of dollars in costs without any revenue potential.
On top of everything else, the storefront has been broken into on more than one occasion, with ransackers cutting the electricity and destroying equipment. “Not going to lie, we almost had to declare bankruptcy two years ago,” she says. “But we passed through. When we reopened at the beginning of 2021, people supported us.”
To make her comeback, Kayla worked tirelessly to expand the menu, doubling their list of offerings—from beverages like the brown sugar latte and honeydew milk tea, to fusion brunch items like the bacon benedict and almond amaretto cake.
She also introduced three-tiered trays, and guests jumped at the chance to layer them with petit desserts (alongside cherry blossom tea in delicate teapots). Complete high tea service is now available for private events.
Today’s Little Patch of Paradise
Today, Kayla watches over her patch of paradise with an air of satisfaction, savoring the lively atmosphere. Flocks of friends in floral dresses and lacey tank tops flow in and out. From time to time, their number is joined by a young couple, a dad with his little princess, or a cosplayer in a frilly Lolita costume.
In feast or famine, K-Café’s silk flowers keep this space effortlessly springtime. “It’s going to be happy all year,” Kayla says of her design choice, but adds that her arriving guests don’t necessarily have to be. “If you’re not happy, it doesn’t matter—you should come here too!” she invites.
Take her up on the offer. Come as you are and find a window seat underneath the floral canopy, or opt for a patio table out in the garden courtyard with the Greek statues. Because if San Jose’s girliest café could withstand its gritty underdog beginnings, all guests are more than welcome, no matter their season.
923 South Bascom Avenue San Jose, California. 95128
Congratulations to the K Fam, Inc for the opening of their laetst location, K on THe Go in Milpitas, 261 W Calaveras Blvd!
(Side images from the Grand Opening. Shot by Zea Huizar @monetinspring)