Tansu, founder of the cutest cafe in the Inland Empire, called Viva La Boba, shares with us her passion about her business & her exciting journey as an entrepreneur. Viva La Boba is amazing, not only for what they offer, but also for what they believe in - they celebrate their guests from all walks of life, especially women of color, as this is a woman of color owned and operated business.
viva la boba
How did you get into starting your own business?
I graduated from film school and immediately got a job in the industry working in casting. However, after just three months of working in the real world, I realized I truly needed a break from Hollywood. I was no where near as happy as I wanted to be. (I’ve attached a little podcast snippet where I describe this experience.)
Rather than stay miserable, my real estate agent boyfriend mentioned he owned a property near our hometown in San Bernardino that he wasn’t sure what to do with. We’ve always loved boba, and there were no boba shops in that area, so on a whim I decided to quit my toxic job and start my own business. Thus, Viva La Boba was born!
What products do you offer?
We’re known for our brown sugar boba that can be added to any of the amazing drinks we offer, including milk teas, smoothies, slushees, lemonades, and after saving up for a few months, we finally got an espresso machine too! It’s been awesome being able to add lattes and other espresso based drinks to our menu - that was what really helped us win over former Starbucks regulars.
What was the idea behind the name ‘Viva La Boba’?
Honestly, we had a weird (and in hindsight, hilarious) situation with a web designer who took our payment but refused to work on our original website name, Boba n Bites. Since she wouldn’t transfer the domain back to us, we decided to just come up with a new name. We did research on where the shop would be located, San Bernardino, and noticed the population boasted a huge Hispanic community.
We wanted to embrace that culture in our name and our store, so we chose Viva La Boba, which roughly translates (as an English speaker) to long live boba, but in Spanish, actually means long live the crazy!
How do you incorporate sustainability to your business?
We’ve been huge on sustainability from the beginning. Even though it costs considerably more, we use Natura biodegradable sugarcane straws that come in both regular and boba size! We’re constantly looking for more sustainable alternatives for everything we use, including ingredients.
We recycle all of our cardboard boxes because we get so many shipments, we donate or reuse our holiday decorations and we use low energy lighting and lightbulbs. We also work with a local organization to set up a recycling receptacle for everyone right outside our front door and we used natural materials like concrete flooring when remodeling the store.
Finally, we import materials from closer locations like Mexico rather than China to reduce our carbon footprint, we have low flushing pressure on our toilet and UV tinting on our windows to reduce AC usage, the list goes on!
What do you do to support LGBTQ+ community?
We love the month of June as we have members of the LGBTQ+ community both on our staff and in management, so we go all out with the unique drinks and donating to LGBTQ+ organizations during that month. During the rest of the year, we make it clear we’re a safe space for those in the community and we will not tolerate hate, racism, or judgement of any kind from customers or fellow colleagues.
I haven’t had to do it, but if it came down to it, I wouldn’t hesitate to fire someone if they didn’t respect these rules that our business strictly adheres to, and I’ve definitely had to kick out customers for making unacceptable comments.
As a woman of color owned and operated business, can you tell us a little bit om how can we help to support the BLM movement?
I believe the most important thing is to put your money where your mouth is. It’s easy to post something to your Instagram story, but are you actually doing the hard work? Are you donating to black organizations? Are you volunteering your time towards black causes? Are you helping to amplify the voices of black people and business owners in your community?
We try and spotlight black owned businesses weekly on our social media pages, since we’re woman of color owned, but not black owned ourselves. We donated thousands of dollars to BLM with the help of our community by hosting fundraisers at our shop. Simply talking about justice isn’t enough - following through is where change really happens.
October looks different this year. How has the pandemic impacted your business?
The pandemic has forced us to get creative with a lot of aspects of our business. Rearranging seating to accommodate the law, enforcing strict social distancing, hand sanitizing, and mask wearing procedures, offering more specials than usual to get people through the door.
Our slow season is winter, and we’re expecting it to be even slower because of the pandemic, but the best we can do is take things one day at a time. We’re very grateful and blessed to have made it this far without having to shut down.
Also, it’s worth mentioning we had to furlough some employees at the start of the pandemic, but as soon as we were able, we hired them back!
Running a business is hard. What have you struggled the most with?
Coming to terms with the idea that the work never stops. Initially, I was under the impression that once we’re successful, things will stay that way with little to no changes. The reality is, challenges pop up all the time (global pandemic, anyone?) and it will always take time and effort to adapt accordingly to STAY successful.
And what are some career goals you’d still like to accomplish?
We’d love to open more locations! We want to intentionally open in areas local to this community for now, rather than jumping into a big city like LA that doesn’t have a need for community oriented boba shops.
Be sure to check out @vivalaboba if you're in San Bernadino!!