For years, Think Coffee blended in with the rest of the Greenwich Village caffeine joints. With its delicious beverages, enticing desserts and hip, lively atmosphere, it was a local favorite — nothing more. That was until 2009, when one popular South Korean game show changed everything.
The South Korean game show, “Infinite Challenge” featured the Mercer Street branch of Think Coffee during a segment in which contestants were made to order a complicated American espresso drink. Funny antics ensued as the participants dressed in flashy costumes and stumbled over their words. With a camera crew in tow, the customers and baristas alike were surprised by the scene that was unfolding before them.
And the antics have not ceased. Think Coffee has experienced an influx of South Korean tourists in the past few years — from individuals to tour groups — marveling at the famous featured site and ordering their own complicated espresso drinks.
Not all Think Coffees have seen this growth. Chris Zen, a manager at the Fourth Street branch, estimates that up to 20 percent of their customers are Korean, but is unsure if this is because of the game show or just the growing diversity of the NYU population. However, Jason Scherr, owner of Think Coffee, confirmed that South Korean visitors to the Mercer branch have increased dramatically since the “Infinite Challenge” episode aired.
Think Coffee has now opened three stores in South Korea to please its growing fan base in that area.
“I am not sure that it further increased after our stores opened in South Korea, but there are quite a number of people who have visited our stores in both countries,” Scherr said.
Surprisingly, not many NYU students have noticed this trend. But perhaps this is because of the increasing diversity Zen has observed. After viewing a YouTube video of the “Infinite Challenge” episode, most students found the video amusing.
Rebekah Jin, a CAS freshman, though previously unaware of the phenomenon, was interested in hearing about “Infinite Challenge.”
“I think it’s really funny how these high profile Korean celebrities were running around without being recognized by a lot of people,” Jin said. “Yoo Jae Suk, the one with the glasses in the video, is the same guy who’s wearing the yellow suit in ‘Gangnam Style.’
But the tourism increase has not passed by completely unnoticed. One Think Coffee customer, Fani Maksaquli, 25, overheard the NYU students being questioned about the video. Maksaquli was excited to hear about it because of a recent, confusing encounter he had involving South Korean tourists.
“There [were] five of them … and they were very, very excited,” he said. “[I] took a picture of them in front of the sign but had no idea what was going on at the time.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 2 print edition. Margaret Weinberg is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]