Ann Arbor just can’t get enough bubble tea. Three business partners will be opening a franchise of Taiwan-based Quickly Boba on South University Avenue in Bubble Island’s current location, joining a still growing Ann Arbor boba market.
Owners Jay Zheng and Cheuk Lee said that their store’s industrial, chic atmosphere and extensive food options, in addition to the traditional drinks offered at bubble tea restaurants, will help Quickly stand out in the crowded Ann Arbor boba market. Zheng, Lee and their third business partner James Yang already operate Quickly franchises in Troy and Auburn Hills in Oakland County.
“We’re not very concerned about the competition. One thing that distinguishes us from other parties is that we offer more value, and our designer cafe is very hip and very attractive … and we just have more food items and more drink options,” Zheng said.
In addition to bubble tea, smoothies, and other drinks that bubble tea restaurants usually offer, Quickly’s Ann Arbor store will offer food like rice bowls, Taiwanese popcorn chicken, fries, crab rangoon, spring rolls and desserts like Japanese mochi waffles.
University alum Alicia Wang said that while it is interesting that Quickly will be offering food, she has never actually ordered food at the boba places in Ann Arbor that do serve it, so she doesn’t know how consequential that will be to the restaurant’s novelty.
“I guess, like on South U, it’s not that surprising, because I feel like Bubble Island and Sweeting both have food options with their bubble tea menu, so I don’t think that brings something that new to South U.” Wang said.
Nursing sophomore Winni Chen, however, said it is nice to see a boba restaurant with an extensive food menu as it reminds her of her experience getting boba at home in the predominantly Asian neighborhood in New York City where she lives.
“In Ann Arbor, I don’t believe I’ve ordered snacks at a boba place before, but at home definitely,” Chen said. “In New York City, it’s really common to have wings or popcorn chicken with boba, so it’s definitely comforting to see some aspects of home being shown here too, and it’s really heartwarming.”
Additionally, Zheng and Lee claim their store will offer more value than its competitors.
“We offer lots of value in our drinks,” Lee said. “Our regular size is the competitors’ large actually.”
Besides numerous competitors, the owners also have the challenge of opening up a restaurant during a global pandemic. While both Lee and Zheng admitted these are not the ideal conditions in which to open their restaurant, they said they are not concerned because their business is not as reliant on customers coming in to sit down, and said they saw success with pickup and orders through delivery services like GrubHub and Doordash at their stores in Troy and Auburn Hills.
“We were actually busy during the COVID pandemic, because people can’t leave the house, you know, (but) they want dessert, right? They would order (from us through) Doordash,” Zheng said. “Sales were down, but we were able to fight through this pandemic.”
Zheng and Lee also said they will follow all local, state and federal COVID-19 guidelines to keep customers and employees at their store safe.
Besides their general love of bubble tea, Lee and Zheng also say they have a personal connection to Ann Arbor’s bubble tea scene. During college, the two would regularly come to Ann Arbor from their homes in metro Detroit to visit Bubble Island.
Students had mixed reactions to the news that yet another boba restaurant would be opening in Ann Arbor — and replacing a current one.
For Chen, it is bittersweet as she said she finds it sad to see an old business being replaced, but is also excited by the new options available.
“It’s sad and, like, heartbreaking to see the old businesses being replaced, but I think it is also exciting to see another boba shop pop up,” Chen said. “It definitely increases the competition between the places, but it is nice to try out boba at different places to see what each store is, like, featuring.”
For Wang, however, another bubble tea restaurant, especially in the South University Avenue area, is just too much.
“If it was like on North Campus, I’d feel much more okay with it, but I feel like State and South U, it’s just too many,” Wang said.
Although the pandemic has reduced sales at their other stores, the three partners see it as almost a blessing in disguise, as it has allowed them to find a space for a store in Ann Arbor’s notoriously difficult downtown real estate market.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Zheng said. “I mean it’s very difficult to get into downtown Ann Arbor, as you know, if it was a normal market. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, it is almost impossible to get into a good location in Ann Arbor,” Zheng said. “Ann Arbor is kind of like our second home, so we had to make a move.”
Daily Staff Reporter Carter Howe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.