Nguyen and Vu at TasteaTwo decades ago, two Cal State Fullerton students, Ted Vu ’02 (finance) and Scott Nguyen ’04 (entertainment art/animation), visited the first boba tea shops in Orange County. Boba tea had just made its way from Taiwan to Southern California, and lines of customers were snaking out the doors of these boba tea shops. Vu and Nguyen sensed an opportunity.

“We decided at that moment, we would start a tea company focusing on a wide variety of creative drinks and delivering an exceptional customer experience,” says Vu.

At 22 years old, with no business experience or financial credit, the high school buddies turned business partners wrote their plan as part of a writing course at Cal State Fullerton that would result in the opening of their first Tastea beverage store in Garden Grove on Sept. 15, 2001.

“We immediately started looking for a location, but every landlord turned us down,” Vu recalls. “We finally found a landlord who was so impressed by our business plan that he decided to give us a chance. However, no banks would approve us for a business loan so we took out private loans with our cars as collateral. With a lease secured and capital in hand, we opened our first location.”

Girl serving boba

Adapting to Challenges and Staying Relevant

Vu and Nguyen are no strangers to adapting to external challenges in getting their business off the ground and thriving.

Their initial grand opening day was the Saturday after 9/11, when the last thing on many Orange County residents’ minds was trying out a new beverage business.

The pair opened their second location at The Block in Orange in 2007, just before the Great Recession. The downturn resulted in a huge financial loss and eventual closure of the location.

And, like all food service businesses, Vu and Nguyen have had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thankfully, Tastea, which now has 23 stores, including franchise locations, began investing in an online ordering app in 2019. That was just in time for the pandemic closures that began in March 2020. Contactless delivery and the installation of pickup windows at physical stores provided a lifeline through COVID-19 in the last year.

Nguyen and Vu encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to be innovative, but also to learn from the successes and failures of others.

“Get out there and do it. Not all ideas will work, but you just need one that will,” says Nguyen.

Says Vu, “Learn as much as you can and never stop learning. We continue to look at what our competitors do better than us and how we can improve. It’s how Tastea has remained relevant with the times.”

Read more about Tastea in the spring/summer 2021 edition of Titan Magazine.