Last February, sitting in a caf?(c) in Toronto, Dennis Yee had an epiphany. If he and his friends would drive two hours every month for a good cup of bubble tea, wouldn't college students be willing to drive 10 minutes?
Yee and friends Rai Mra and Eugene Leung, all UB graduates, got to work putting together ideas to bring the beverage to their former college town. After seven months of work, the Bubble Tea Caf?(c) opened its doors in September on Sheridan Drive, near UB's North Campus.
The Caf?(c) is not the first adventurous business idea attempted by UB grads hoping to tap the rich but fickle student market. With ties to the UB community and a product guaranteed to draw curiosity, however, the Caf?(c) stands out from the average Amherst enterprise.
Mra, born in Burma and raised in Singapore, and Yee and Leung, both New York City natives, understand the benefits of creating a student-friendly environment outside their campus.
"One of our reasons for opening the caf?(c) is to give back to the community with an emphasis on UB," said Yee. "Of course we want to make money too, but a business is a good way to give back to UB."
So far, the caf?(c) has made good on its word. In its first two months of business, the teahouse has hosted parties for UB sororities and fraternities, supported Chinese Graduate Association functions, and will host the upcoming Filipino American Student Association's Barrio Fiesta on Saturday, Nov. 17.
What the Bubble Tea offers the UB community is more than just meeting space. Its product is a light alternative to the standard caf?(c) latte; small balls of tapioca pudding are suspended in a light, fruity tea, served hot or cold and with or without milk.
I tried the passion-fruit bubble tea sans milk and found it delicious. I didn't much care for the large balls of tapioca at the bottom of the neon green cup, dubbed pearl tapioca, but the menu says tea can be served any way I'd like, even without the tapioca that gives the tea its name. Leung described bubble teas with milk as less-heavy milkshakes, offered in signature flavors such as almond, coconut and honeydew.
It's not unusual for a new business to struggle in its first few months; my visit to the caf?(c) on a Monday night put me among a thin crowd.
However, I was pleasantly surprised when customer traffic picked up while talking with the owners; the Caf?(c) began to resemble a long-established business, replete with regulars. If there's anything to karma, Rai Mra, Dennis Yee and Eugene Leung exude it, and their efforts to bring a distinctive treat and communal atmosphere to UB may just pay off.
The Bubble Tea Caf?(c) is located at 3202 Sheridan Drive in the Picadilly Plaza on the corner of Bailey and Sheridan, and is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m. Check its Web address for more information: http://www.bubbleteacafe.com.