Cup of Troy revives the Trojan spirit

Cup of Troy, started by Shawn Tran and Joseph Litwin, is operated out of their eight-person household, and serves a rotating menu of drinks and pastries every two weeks. (Photo courtesy of Cup of Troy)

What started out as a hobby is now a mid-pandemic success. It’s the story of a few college students trapped inside looking for something to do. On a whim, a household of USC drumline students decided to buy an espresso machine, but nothing could have predicted what was to come.  

Cup of Troy, a pop-up coffee shop run in University Park, is tying up the loose ends of pandemic mania.

“I run a pop-up coffee shop out of my house on the west side of campus,” said Shawn Tran, a senior majoring in music industry. “Every two weeks on both days of the weekend we just serve coffee to the community.”

At the forefront of the cafe are Tran and Joseph Litwin, a junior majoring in communication. 

Litwin and Tran are a part of an eight-person household and each member pitches in to help with Cup of Troy. The cafe offers a rotating menu of specialty drinks and homemade pastries. 

“I’ve had a lot of cafe experience working odd jobs in high school so I was making drinks for my housemates,” Tran said. “So one weekend we opened and ten to fifteen people pulled up, and we were like we should do this more often.” 

“The first weekend we probably had 15-20 people and these past two weekends we’ve gotten up to 150-200 people that have come to Cup of Troy,” Litwin said. “It’s nice to just see people even just for a few minutes [and] feel like there’s some sort of connection or bond, not just talking on the phone.” 

Tran laughed on reflection, noticing the cafe would have never come to fruition without the coronavirus.

“In terms of connecting with the community I think it’s just great,” Tran said. “Especially last semester when things were a lot weirder. It was super nice seeing people’s faces and our neighborhood — whether it’s band kids or people in my classes. It’s great giving a chance for people to socialize.” 

Cup of Troy follows all safety protocols for the coronavirus. They require social distancing, masks and a time limit for enjoying the cafe’s ambiance. 

“They are safe about [the coronavirus], and I like the sense that there’s still a community here,” said Cat Tang, a sophomore majoring in cognitive science. “I think [the USC community] has been very decentralized since the start of the pandemic. But [Cup of Troy] reminds me of being able to go to the village and run into your friends. I feel like a lot of that organic, natural ‘I bumped into somebody’ has been taken away.” 

Tang is a local coffee shop enthusiast. As soon as she heard about the cafe from her roommate, she knew where she wanted her next latte from. 

The atmosphere is what makes Cup of Troy unique. For obvious reasons, students have had little to no opportunity to meet new people for the past year. Tang, Litwin and Tran all are grateful the cafe can remedy a sparse amount of the pandemic’s lack of human interaction. 

“It’s an immediate feeling of joy that you’re seeing somebody who you love, but you aren’t seeing them in the hallway or the dorms anymore,” Tang said. “But then you get your coffee and there’s a sense of comfort.”

Nothing cures existential dread like a strong latte and a socially distanced reunion. The handmade kitschy banner sparks joy in the simplicity of the cafe. 

“It’s in a front yard, and it gives it a really stereotypical college vibe,” Tran said. “I really want it to feel like it’s a part of the USC canon. I don’t think you can get that experience at Dulce or Starbucks.”

With a house full of musicians, it was about timer Cup of Troy started featuring music at the coffee shop. 

On Sundays, they now host local musicians and comedians to perform as well. Tran and Litwin, despite the gloom of the coronavirus, manage to connect USC students and the surrounding community with their cafe each weekend. 

Frances Manchester, a performer and a junior majoring in music industry, recently released an EP under the name “Animals over people.”Manchester who wrote, performed, produced and mixed all the songs himself was ready to perform and bring his ideas to life. 

“The best part was kind of having a little sense of normality in these strange times,” Manchester said. “It was great to be back around USC and see people socially distanced but still having a good time together and being there for live music.” 

After his performance, Manchester chatted with a few audience members who said this was their first time seeing live music since the start of the pandemic. He recalled how special of an experience the performance at Cup of Troy was.

“It’s a really cool place,” Manchester said. “It’s just really admirable that they set that up, and it’s just nice to be a part of something like [Cup of Troy]. So, in the future I would definitely enjoy the opportunity again.”

As for the future of Cup of Troy, Tran and Lintwin don’t have a clear idea, but they know they don’t want it to end. 

“We do want to focus on the brand of Cup of Troy,” Litwin said. “We’re thinking about a few different things. I want to keep it to expand to bigger events after everyone’s vaccinated.”

Tran especially enjoys the crossover between coffee and the music industry. 

“There’s not really a chance for them to intersect,” Tran said. “We haven’t realized the full potential of this brand and what kind of following we have.”

Even though the Trojan spirit that once connected students is dim,innovation from students like Tran and Litwin illuminates what fighting on means.

“Ultimately, it comes down to that connection,” Tang said. “Supporting originality and innovative entrepreneurship type mindset is something that we should focus on as a Trojan community.”

Check out Cup of Troy on Instagram to find their hours and menu.