LocationAlhambra , CA
In a time when public health officials are calling for each person to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, Labobatory business owner Elton Keung is taking that charge seriously and encouraging his customers to make boba at home.
At first, the idea of telling people to make boba at home might seem detrimental to his business – a boba tea store – but Keung is offering a do-it-yourself kit to make Hong Kong milk tea or jasmine green tea. These DIY kits contain all ingredients needed to make the boba and tea and come with a commemorative Erlenmeyer flask.
“I feel like I’m on the more paranoid side, but that’s where I choose to be,” Keung said.
The pandemic has hit his business hard, but Keung is standing firm, saying, “We decided very early on that safety was number one, whether or not that is to the [business’] grave, safety is number one.”
The San Gabriel Valley native expanded into a second location in Pasadena at the end of 2019 but has not reopened it since its closing in March. Keung says there is a lot of activity in Pasadena with a potential for business but it’s not worth the health risk to him nor his employee-turned-business partner Oscar Ho and two remaining employees.
At this point, the Pasadena store has been closed longer than it had been open.
Labobatory has a COVID-19 menu at the moment. Customer are encouraged to buy online and schedule their pickup. DIY kits can be picked up or shipped. Labobatory has shipped boba kits all over the country.
The kits have been designed so the consumer can “throw everything in so it was done and delicious” but Keung has found that his customers have a new appreciation for the making of boba and want to pick up drinks.
“They do it and say, ‘No way am I going to spend an hour and a half making boba again,’” he laughed.
Even though Keung is upbeat and easy-going, he does talk about the financial toll of the pandemic. “America is truly hurting; small business is hurting. I have to find a way to become profitable. I don’t have the ability to sustain for that much longer,” he said.
Keung is excited about the possibilities though. The pandemic has given Labobatory time to expand business operations in ways that he thinks might not have happened if it were not for the forced time indoors.
The company is doing ecommerce for the first time with the kits and premade half-gallon jugs of tea sold online. Keung is hosting corporate happy hour over Zoom with DIY boba demonstrations and magic tricks, as he is an avid magician.
They have a couple of ideas for other at-home kits in the works and Keung is thinking about collaborating with other businesses.