Having opened during an alarming chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, one little shop has managed to pull through and quickly become a beloved part of the Corvallis community, thanks to the endurance, creativity, and kindness of its young and bright owner: 27-year-old Dillon Kell.
Kell is the proud owner of Kell’s Koffee, a small downtown business located right next to Seoul Sisters Boutique. Kell, who is originally from Hawai’i, had lived in southern California while his family moved to Corvallis in 2013 to support his younger brother, who played football at OSU.
“I visited Corvallis for the first time a few years ago and fell in love with the city,” said Kell. “I came back to Corvallis in 2018 and have been here since.”
Living in Corvallis, Kell was able to get to know the community by working at Starbucks and Ulta Beauty, as well as through the unique social ties his family held.
“My father had his own small business, Kell’s Kitchen, and I was always envious of how rewarding owning your own business was.”
While sitting at home one evening, Kell decided that owning a business was something that he not only wanted to do, but needed to do.
“I hopped on my computer and applied for a business loan,” he said. “With my fingers crossed, I pressed the submit button and was approved for a loan just large enough to get myself an espresso machine.”
Shortly thereafter, Kell’s Koffee was born — though the March of 2020 timing couldn’t have been more inopportune.
“I started the business process in November of 2019 with no intention of having to deal with a global pandemic a few short months later. Within two weeks of opening we went into the first lockdown. This made me extremely nervous about what the future held for me and my little shop.”
With the virus becoming more and more serious with each passing day, Kell became increasingly apprehensive about the future. His solution was to take each day as it came and allow optimism to be his driving force, and his perseverance paid off. Despite having a slow start, Kell was able to sustain his business during the beginning of the pandemic, and he believes that it being the only downtown coffee shop that was open at the time compelled people to check it out and try something new.
Thankfully, many people kept coming back after their initial visit. Kell attributes this to being able to give people a sense of home through his shop — a place where they know there is someone who will treat them with nothing but kindness when they visit. Building relationships, he says, is a huge part of his business.
“Not only is the experience very important, but the product is just as special,” he added. “Trying different coffees from various Oregon roasters, I wanted to make sure I loved what I was selling. I also think people come back because the menu stays interesting. Being able to introduce new flavors into someone’s palette is very rewarding to me.”
Bringing Back Memories
Having grown up in Hawai’i, something else that has been rewarding for Kell about owning his own business is being able to share aspects of his culture and upbringing with his new community.
“I’ve always wanted to share my culture with people,” he said. “I love teaching my friends about foods I grew up eating as well as the experiences I had growing up. Now I am able to use my platform to share a culture that I am so in love with. [It’s] the most important part of what I do every day at Kell’s Koffee.”
One of the foods that has quickly become a staple within Kell’s Koffee is Poke, a traditional dish of Native Hawaiian cuisine consisting of diced, raw, marinated fish.
“I remember growing up, Poke was at every potluck, first birthday luau, or even just a snack to have. I love Poke and I love being able to share it with Corvallis.”
The newest addition to Kell’s Koffee’s menu — just in time for summer — is shave ice, another Hawaiian treat close to Kell’s heart.
“I remember my parents would take us to a small shave ice shop called Wilson’s By the Bay. I have very fond memories of this place; having a sweet treat on a hot day always brought a smile to my face,” Kell said. “These small but important memories are memories I want other families to be able to experience as well. I’ve [also] been fortunate enough to meet many people from Hawai’i, and it feels so good to be able to bring a little part of our childhoods back into their lives.”
A Taste of Aloha
For Kell, Corvallis is now a place he can call home, and he is hopeful that his business can help people who also come from diverse backgrounds and cultures feel the same about the city.
“If there were anything I would want to change about Corvallis, it would be to bring more awareness to our BIPOC communities as well as the LGBTQIA+ community,” Kell said. “I have been able to meet people from all over the world at my small business, and I want to be able to share how incredibly beautiful every culture is. I love learning about my customers and their cultures, and I try to take inspiration for drinks from all over the world.”
To help maintain a welcoming spirit at his shop, Kell works to ensure that his business values boil down to one word: Aloha.
“Growing up in Hawai’i, the concept of Aloha was something we lived by every day. The Hawaiian culture is very love-focused, and I live every day doing my best to treat people the way every human deserves to be treated.”
One of Kell’s main goals is to have his business serve as a space where everyone feels welcomed and included — and a place anyone can come to whenever they need a little taste of Aloha.
“I want nothing more for my business to be able to share my Aloha with everyone and build a Kell’s Koffee family where everyone is included and celebrated,” said Kell. “I am so incredibly honored that I am able to share my Aloha with Corvallis every single day.”