For a small business to truly thrive, there are two important factors: authenticity and creativity. For Mathew Wong, co-founder and CEO of Tea and Milk in New York City, these were absolute priorities. To stand out in the very competitive market of bubble tea, they had to create and market a product that would rise above all others.
“We wanted to be creative,” Mathew said. “We wanted to make things different. We wanted to make sure that whoever is drinking our drink tastes the love, passion, and creativity that we put in there.”
Not only did the Tea and Milk team want to share their passion with their customers, but they had to in order to survive. Bubble tea continues to rise as a trend, and it can be unfortunately easy for smaller operations to get trampled by popular chains that produce things at scale and usually at a lower price point.
To attract and retain a loyal customer base, a unique and superior product is crucial. For Tea and Milk, that meant real ingredients and special flavors. Instead of using powdered milks and taros used at many bubble tea shops, they source tea leaves, milks, and taro from local supermarkets. These fresh ingredients—plus a revolving menu of flavors based on the availability of seasonal fruits—set them apart.
This week’s Yelp reviewer Jando S. (also Yelp Queens Community Manager) shared, “Before the bubble tea craze, Tea and Milk was practically the only boba game in Astoria. And still today, they remain one of the only successful non-chain bubble tea businesses in NYC.”
Whether you’re just starting out or revisiting your current operations and product, your passion should always shine through. Why is your business important to you? What motivates you? What type of experience do you want to serve your customers? Don’t lose sight of that, and make sure your customers feel it in every interaction they have with your business.
It’s also important that your staff recognizes and embodies your vision. They won’t likely be as invested in your product/business as you are, but by sharing your mission and passion, they’ll be more inclined to translate those sentiments into their work and deliver that vision to the customers that come into your store.
Here are a few other key takeaways from this week’s episode:
- Don’t skip out on research and L&D. Mathew and his team dedicated a lot of time to research and L&D (Learning & Development)—crafting the menu, researching ingredients, and making sure that their business vision was something that both they and their customers were excited about.
- Educate your audience. You know all about your business or product, but that’s because it’s your passion. No one will know as much as you do, so take the time to teach your customers about your product or service so that they can understand what they’re getting and learn a bit along the way.
- Show your community that you care. Community is essential when it comes to thriving as a small business. During the pandemic, Mathew and his team took part in a neighborhood initiative that distributed dozens of free drinks to people in the community. “We wanted to do something for the people to make them happy,” said Mathew. “And then they’ll probably do something for someone else to make their day”
In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we close with an important note from Mathew:
“With the pandemic, a lot of people saw Asian Americans as the virus itself. It does hurt a lot because then there’s hate. That’s why food is such a powerful tool—because you can taste the passion someone puts into their food and drink.
“We just want to make sure that everyone understands that all we want is unity, love, respect, happiness—all the stuff that everyone should have. I think that’s what everyone wants.”
Interviews by Emily Washcovick; photos from Tea and Milk
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Mathew and Jando, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
We're sorry you didn't find this post valuable.
How could we improve it?
The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.