Q & A with Boba 7 Founder Elton Keung: Green Tea Heineken, Labobatory + Alcoholic Boba
Angelenos are no strangers to quality boba drinks. The city boasts some of the most diverse selections of bubble tea in the States -- from the chronically sweet selections at Half and Half to the aromatic brews at AU79 Teahouse.
Elton Keung Elton Keung at the bar
Elton Keung, a 24-year-old USC alumni, wanted to add another variety to the mix -- alcoholic boba concoctions.
In 2011, instead of opting for a salaried job right after graduation, Keung traveled to Taichung, Taiwan, to pay a visit to Chun Shui Tang, the company that's widely credited with inventing boba. Inspired after his research, Keung invested all his money into opening Boba 7, a tea bar located in the back of Soi 7 in downtown Los Angeles. With menu options like Green Tea Heineken and Horchata Boba, the start-up has already gained considerable momentum and an impressive visitor list that includes Joe Jonas, Phillip Wang, Kevjumba and Jhonen Vasquez.
We sat down with the San Gabriel Valley native to talk about his inspirations and how he went from a student to a business owner in less than a year.
Squid Ink: How did you get your start in this?
Elton Keung: I was an entrepreneur student at USC. I really have no background in the food industry until summer 2011 when I interned for Nguyen Tran of Starry Kitchen. That summer I conceived the alcoholic boba concept.
SI: Why did you choose food then?
EK: I got into food because it's fun. I was always an entertainer type of personality. It feels great to be able to see people enjoy your work versus the corporate life where you can't visually see your impact.
SI: So were you always into the food industry or did you just decide on a whim to get into it?
EK: On a whim. I saw the opportunity in boba even though there was a new boba place opening every week. I felt I'm on the brink of something very different with the Asian mixology idea. Alcoholic boba won't take off until I'm wildly successful with it.
SI: So take me through the steps. You went from an intern at Starry Kitchen to an owner of your own business
EK: I interned at Starry Kitchen summer 2011, and I had one more semester to finish at USC. During that semester, I was mixing Green Tea Heinekens at parties. I took bartending school while working at Starry Kitchen after conceiving the idea. But I feel like it's every kid's dream to have their own little labobatory where they can mix concoctions and see if it tastes good. I learned mostly from Google and just doing it. I officially finished school December 2011. Relaxed awhile and went on an expedition to Taiwan to see where boba came from in April. Opened Boba 7 on July 5.
SI: Tell us about this expedition to Taiwan that inspired your business.
Elton Keung Applejito: Soju, calpico, green apple jelly and green apple syrup
EK: So I ventured into Taichung, in the middle of Taiwan. Through my research, I pinpointed this lady that I had to meet. The one day I was in Taichung, her company happened to be doing a milk tea making competition. It was one of those moments where the stars aligned and I knew I was meant to do boba. I call it entrepreneurial momentum. They kindly invited me in and I interviewed them and learned about the history of what happened in 1985.
SI: What happened in 1985?