Boba, or bubble tea, are little pearls made of tapioca and cooked up to go in any of the drinks such as milk teas and smoothies served at the storefront nestled in the back corner of a strip-mall on Convoy Street.
Tran said they import their boba from Taiwan and as of recent, there has been a national boba shortage which has also impacted her shop’s suppliers. Despite this supply chain challenge and not being able to travel for the past year, Tran said the shop has stayed open during the pandemic to serve its customers.
Through it all, Tran said people have been grateful that their shop has been open and some of their customers have been coming consistently for the past five years. She runs the Convoy location, while her husband mainly runs the National City shop and her dad operates the original location at Zion Market.
Tran spent part of her childhood in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and then from the age of 9 grew up in San Diego. She continued to spend her summers in Vietnam, where her dad owned restaurants and as a kid, she fantasized about opening her own café.
She earned her degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of San Diego, and after graduation, Tran opened Boba Bar at the age of 21.
“We just happened to open the boba shop right after I graduated because I hadn’t applied to any like pharmacy or optometry school yet, that is what I was planning to do, but I decided to not do it and then try out the boba business and then I really liked it,” Tran said.
It was her dad’s idea to start the first one inside of Zion Market and since then they have grown the business to approximately 30 employees across three locations.
One of the things that makes Boba Bar stand out among other bubble tea shops, is the commitment to fresh ingredients for authentic flavors, said Tran. For instance, every day, her dad cuts about 80 percent of the fruit by hand.
In addition to the boba they import from Taiwan, Tran said they cook their own brown sugar for the popular Brown Sugar Milk tea, which is something she said not a lot of shops can say they do.
One example of Tran making a spin on an Asian dessert is Boba Bar’s puffles — an Instagram-worthy treat with inspiration from Chinese waffles. The soft waffles almost look like giant bubble wrap around soft-serve custard and a sprinkling of colorful toppings.
“We try to make it look really pretty, except now that it’s COVID, everything is a to-go order, so it’s not as pretty, but it’s still good to-go in a cup — we still try to make it look pretty and then decorate it,” Tran said. “You know how some places, the food looks really good, but then it doesn’t taste that good. We try to make it look good and taste good.”