As demand for it increases, there's no shortage of boba tea shops in Dallas and its northern suburbs, but David Kim wanted something more. After helping with the successful expansion and growth of his family's trampoline park business, Jumping World, Kim was eager to test his entreprenurial skills on a personal project. "I also believed there was a huge market need for a non-franchise milk tea cafe," Kim said.
"Even though franchises are a great way to break into small businesses, there are definitely some risks. We wanted to create a milk tea cafe that focused on its customers' experience, giving back to the community it serves, and also creating a friendly working environment for the team."
Kim and business partners Paolo De Leon and Christopher Nguyen opened the Allen location of Boba Republic just weeks after widespread shutdowns and restricted occupancy due to COVID-19 ended. Less than a year later, they opened a second store in Plano when they purchased a failing franchise-brand dessert shop. Now, both stores are busy bringing boba tea (also called bubble tea) and what Kim calls "Boba Culture" to their neighborhoods and beyond.
House-made boba (pearl-shaped balls made of tapioca starch) is just part of the equation. On the product side, customers can enjoy milk and snowy teas, fruit smoothies and slushes plus coffee drinks and frappucinos. Both stores also sell mochi donuts every day in limited quantities.
The star of the menu might be the strawberry milk tea, flavored with a puree of fresh strawberries that's also made in-house. A blend of the strawberry milk with matcha has been a big seller. "It is a privilege for us to be able to introduce a part of the Asian American identity in milk tea and tapioca to many in the DFW area, and we do not take that for granted," Kim said.
Drinks are served in cups emblazoned with the company's boba bear logo which Kim hopes will become a symbol of boba culture. "We believe every small positive change matters. Whether that is through our monetary donation campaigns, offering biodegradable bamboo straw alternatives or encouraging our employees with their own career and education advancement, we just want to leave the world a better place after we leave it," Kim said.
With degrees in finance and history from the University of Texas, Kim recently completed an MBA from McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas. He said that even more than the coursework, he truly valued the opportunity to learn more about networking. Kim was primed to be a star pupil in that area of study. Boba Republic stores have hosted pop ups and collaborations with other businesses like Mac and Cream, which brings its adorably decorated French macarons to the store on scheduled occasions.
Other popups have offered kimchi, onigiri and cookies and cakesicles from Speckle Box. Advance notice of special events like these often shows up on the Asian Grub in DFDUB Facebook group page. The social media group page has almost 50,000 members and has been instrumental in supporting local Asian-owned businesses throughout the pandemic and challenging times when many people with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage have faced discrimination, prejudice and sometimes violence.
Of the Facebook group, Kim said, "We are actually great friends with one of the [page] administrators, Vu Ly. The small business operators in the DFW area are a very close knit group inside and outside of the Asian Grub page."
"They have helped MANY of the Asian opened businesses during the pandemic and also introduced new stores to the DFW population."
Kim is also currently on the Board of Directors for Lambda Phi Epsilon, the largest Asian American interest fraternity. "I credit the organization for helping me proudly associate with my Asian American identity," Kim said.
The child of two South Korean immigrants, Kim and two younger siblings were raised by a single mother of Christian faith. "She instilled the importance of empathy and eloquence," Kim said. "She had us write thank you cards for all of our teachers growing up as well as our bus drivers. Something that I still do to this day to my friends, vendors, employees, and clients!"
"My father is one of the hardest working individuals in the world. He is an unhinged version of myself, and I attribute a lot of my work ethics and risk tolerance to him. I love them both dearly and am extremely grateful at the opportunities in life that I have thanks to their sacrifices."
When I asked Kim if there was any important message he wanted to share about Boba Republic, he said, " We just want to thank all of our customers who've allowed us to be part of their lives. Opening two weeks after the pandemic lockdowns was not the most ideal situation, but we wouldn't have it any other way in hindsight."
That effervescent attitude of gratitude is part of Boba Culture, which Kim hopes to spread beyond his own neighborhood and two stores. When you drink from a Boba Culture cup that says "Treat yourself"on it, you're giving a treat to others as well. A small business and its employees, a wider network of Asian-owned businesses, and one very talented young 28-year old Korean American are all delighted at the chance to share a cup of "communi-tea."