Imagine a place where you could go and not feel judged; a place where you could write in a journal where other people from around the world have written. You can write back to them or you can write about your own story. It’s a place where people genuinely care about how you’re doing, not just for the sake of creating small talk; a place where you’re seen, heard, valued, welcomed, and much, much more.
Wait, this sounds like a community center…but it’s actually a bubble tea place. On my search for the best bubble tea, I found this gem of a place in Orlando, Florida. Wanting a reprieve from the AC room of the conference where I had delivered my workshop, I happened upon Bubble & Co.
I was greeted by the manager named Anthony (think a younger version of Josh Duhamel and wayyyyy nicer). He took pride in every thing he showed me: from the home-made taro, to the real milk (both dairy and non-dairy) they use instead of the powdered kind most bubble tea places use, the fact that they brew fresh tea every two hours, all the plastic cups/straws are biodegradable, and the list goes on. He would end each sentence with “darling.” I felt like I had stepped into an alternate universe.
But wait, shouldn’t every snacking/dining experience be like this?
“Here’s an extra sample of our rose tea, our journal where customers share their stories, and the Beautiful Book—you know, the one Wellspring International the nonprofit created to support women who have had reconstructive surgery after they had acid thrown on their faces for various reasons…and the same nonprofit we also support. Oh and I looked at your website, and well, I love you even more and I told the owner Jenn about you. She can’t wait to meet you, darlin’.”
As I flipped through the Beautiful Book, I had already fallen in love with this boutique bubble tea store. Then I read the stories of people who had come in before me: stories of heart break, loss, incarceration, and I added my own story of depression and growth. Anthony had proudly told me they were working on turning this journal into an e-book amongst their many other projects to help people connect WITH each other.
The following day, Jenn agreed to meet me at the store. She was a force to be reckoned WITH. She and her three kids had moved to Orlando to pursue their dreams of becoming professional swimmers. She had found a Russian coach who had agreed to work with them, so they had moved from Toronto last August, and she had opened Bubble & Co just five short months later in January 2019.
She shared her own upbringing in Taiwan. She had grown up with frugal parents. She was always left out: she wasn’t in her words “Hello Kitty cute” enough, she wasn’t as smart as her sister, and she was way taller than the average Taiwanese woman at 5’9. “I always hunched over, so as not to be seen. I didn’t get math and science when I was younger, but my sister did. I never showed my parents my report card, because I was always so embarrassed…” At 13 years old, her parents decided they would move the family to Toronto so that she could have a better more well-rounded life, kind of like what she did for her children moving to Orlando.
“You know, I see kids these days and of course I have my own kids too, but they have friends that are on their phone and not face-to-face. I want them to be able to come here and have a place where they aren’t judged, where they have someone to talk to. I always ask every one who comes in here how are you? No really, how are YOU? I only serve the highest quality of ingredients in here—things I would serve to my own kids. Everything is natural and organic (where possible) down to the sugar we use, and even our taro we boil it ourselves. I was trained by two of my friends from Taiwan who were some of the original bubble tea store owners in Taiwan like 20 years ago (!).”
She went on to talk about how she could really empathize with a lot of the teenagers who come in as she had suffered through a lot of the same challenges they do. She doesn’t want them to go through what she did without support. She’s also thought of holding workshops on topics like “How to be a man” or a “Date Night (without alcohol).” When I told my husband about Jenn the night after I met her, he shared that he wished he had had a workshop like that. “It would have helped me understand how to treat women, and that I don’t have to be aggressive/jealous to stay in a relationship with a woman. I had to learn the hard way…” I smiled thinking of what an amazing man he had truly become, but yes, we need to talk about these topics explicitly for sure. Jenn continued, “I tell my son. You are a man now. You have to act like one. You are bigger than women physically, and there’s a reason for that, but you should never use that power to lay a hand on a woman. Ever.”
During our photo shoot at the store, she showed me how they were selling tea, coffee, reusable cutlery sets, pastries from a French pastry chef. She pointed out the painting of an ocean on the left and a wishing tree on the right. “The ocean makes me feel calm. Water helps to balance us out. And here (pointing at the wishing tree), people can leave wishes for themselves or others.” She smiled beaming of pride, the way Anthony had done talking about this small yet important community that they– along with their 9 staff –had built here in Orlando.
“Gosh, it’s so nice to meet you. You’re an Asian female entrepreneur, you’re so nice, kind, thoughtful, giving…” I was trying to find more adjectives that could describe what a total badass she was and then she looks at me; she smiles and replies, “Like you.” And just like that, kind of like her entire business philosophy for her bubble tea store, she truly saw me, heard me, valued me, and welcomed me. What she does for every single human who steps into her version of a magical kingdom she has created in Orlando.
Can’t wait for you to step into her magical kingdom!