Sean Shi and wife Kasey Chen have been franchise owners of the Teahouse, Tapioca & Tea in Bellaire for almost three years. Now they have signed a lease to open their second location at the Ella Oaks Center at Ella Boulevard and West 34th Street, in the space recently occupied by Branché Boutique.
According to the corporate website, the United States’ first Teahouse location opened inside Houston’s Hong Kong City Mall in April 2000. It was the first traditional Taiwanese cream teahouse in the Houston area. Now there are almost 20 in Houston and the surrounding area, including one in the Heights on Yale Street.
Shi said the couple had been looking for a location in the Oak Forest/Garden Oaks area for more a year. Their needs were specific. At the Bellaire location, they get a lot of after-school foot traffic from Bellaire High School and Shi is hoping for the same student business from Waltrip High School.
“There’s a line of students (after Bellaire gets out),” Shi said, noting the free Wi-Fi attracts kids with their laptops to do homework or meet with a study group.
The Teahouse menu runs the gamut, with tea, coffee, smoothies and slushies as well as finger foods like sweet potato fries, popcorn chicken and fried egg rolls. Chen said their younger customers like the smoothies. The Mangonada, a spicy Mango slushy, is a current favorite.
Customers can customize their drinks with several different sugar options, or none. They can also choose a “sinker” to be added to a beverage for extra flavor. Sinkers range from aloe vera to ice cream. Shi and Chen said their ingredients are natural and all fresh.
While the Bellaire location is 1,000 square feet, the new location is a little bit smaller at 1,000 square feet. Shi said they aim to open by December but need to build a kitchen first.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bellaire location is only open for takeout and delivery, for the safety of guests and employees. Shi said their grand opening in Oak Forest will have a number of specials and promotions. There is a Teahouse loyalty program for frequent customers.
The couple commutes from Sugar Land, and another reason for selecting their new location was that it would be easy to get to from Bellaire.
Shi is from China and Chen is Taiwanese. They met in the U.S. and married 20 years ago. According to Shi, they complement each other in their business.
“She is the heart, (and) I am the soul,” he said, explaining that Chen is in charge of everything inside of the store while he does maintenance, bookkeeping and other administrative duties.
“We have been talking to the Teahouse for years about having a presence on the corner of Ella and 34th,” said Monica Danna of Revive, the developer that owns and operates the shopping center. “Once an opportunity opened up they were the first operator we called. We feel they will be a great mix to the Ella Oaks center.”