The king of boba is an aardvark from San Francisco…and it’s settling into the Peninsula
If you build the boba shop, they will come.
San Francisco-born Boba Guys soft opened its 15th location at Town & County Village in Palo Alto on Tuesday, with no promotion beyond a hiring notice on Instagram. Within two hours, a line had formed out the door.
Boba Guys’ milk tea — made in small batches using real tea leaves instead of powders, Straus Family Creamery organic milk and a housemade, all-natural sweetener — has drawn a major following since its start as a pop-up in San Francisco in 2011. The company now has locations throughout the Bay Area and in Los Angeles and New York, with more on the way this year.
The owners expect the Palo Alto Boba Guys, located across the street from Palo Alto High School and Stanford University, to be its busiest location yet. They built out a kitchen double the usual size and are hiring 75 percent more staff than average, co-founder Andrew Chau said in an interview at the shop on Tuesday. Given the space’s zoning limitations, there’s no seating, so it’s more of a grab-and-go than other locations. The shop is located between CVS and Tin Pot Creamery.
The typical Boba Guys menu is available in Palo Alto, such as the best-selling strawberry matcha latte with matcha, milk and a housemade strawberry purée. Customers can build their own drinks to their preferences, from type of tea and milk (including oat milk) to sweetness level. There will also be special drinks unique to Palo Alto, which Chau said will lean toward healthier drinks and ones for families with children, such as aqua fresca with no tea for younger customers.
The Palo Alto shop will eventually serve pastries from Berkeley-based Third Culture Bakery. Chau hopes to also test out some “snacks and packaged bites” from Deuki Hong, a chef the owners teamed up with to create a menu for the Boba Guys inside the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
Chau and Bin Chen started Boba Guys together after their favorite milk tea shop closed. Having grown up on boba made with powders and non dairy creamers, they wanted to shift the way people perceived milk tea.
They take an artisanal approach to boba, making all components in house with quality ingredients — including now manufacturing their own boba, the chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom of their tea drinks, out of a new 18,000-square-foot factory in Hayward. They hope to start offering public factory tours this summer in an ever-continuing quest to educate Americans about milk tea.
They’re upfront about the fact that their boba isn’t traditional Taiwanese milk tea, but rather their own authentic “American-style boba.” They focus on cultural awareness as much in the menu as with their staff, Chau said. Boba Guys’ Japanese coffee cola drink is called that because it’s inspired by a Tokyo cafe that serves a drink of cold-brew coffee and Coca Cola. The nod was explained in an Instagram post when the drink was added to the menu.
“What we’re trying to do is build cultures,” Chau said. “We want more businesses to do more attribution.”
The owners regularly pen detailed blog posts on everything from sustainability (they’re about to roll out bamboo straws) and civic engagement (they encouraged employees to vote in the midterm elections by providing an hour’s worth of compensation) to cultural commentary (recently, on the film “Crazy Rich Asians”). They’re also working on a book about boba.
During its soft-opening phase, Boba Guys Palo Alto is open Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. with a limited menu. Full hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m.
The grand opening is set for Saturday, Feb. 2.
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