Thirsty for a change of pace, a doctor from Fredericksburg is eyeing a career switch and bringing a national chain of tea shops to Richmond.
Michael Wong, a Fredericksburg optometrist, along with business partner Miki Ly, have the first Richmond franchise of New York-based Kung Fu Tea in the works in a former Korean restaurant space at 946 W. Grace St. in the heart of VCU.
It’s the duo’s first food service venture and Wong said he needed a way out of the monotony of his 6-year optometry career.
“Day in and day out, it was the same thing every day,” Wong said. “I got a little tired of it.”
Kung Fu Tea offers a wide selection of bubble teas – a flavored South Asian drink mixed with tapioca balls, as well as green tea mixes and specialty shakes, such as its herbal milk jelly tea and its Matcha Red Bean slush.
The brand has grown aggressively in Virginia with two new locations planned for Harrisonburg and Springfield. The firm, which operates more than 100 locations nationwide, is also adding new stores throughout Texas, California and Maryland.
Wong said he and Ly plan to pump $200,000 into their West Grace Street location, a 900-square-foot space left vacant by Mama’s Kitchen, which has since rebranded as K-Town Kitchen & Bar and moved to 9 N. Fourth St. in Monroe Ward.
Outside of traveling through Richmond for business, Wong has never lived in the area. However, he is familiar with the city’s diverse dining options – especially in the city’s center near VCU, where a mix of students and full-time residents add to the collection of feet on the street near his future location.
“We were looking for places that had great visibility, and was drawn to this location because of its proximity to VCU,” Wong said.
Campus demographics also played a big role in placing Kung Fu Tea in the heart of VCU, Wong said.
“There is a high concentration of Asian students that attend VCU,” he said. “With their familiarity of bubble tea, and the quality of our brands’ products, we expect the location to do very well in that area.”
Wong said he and his business partner first explored the Short Pump area to launch the region’s first Kung Fu Tea, but decided against it after seeing the amount of pedestrian traffic along Grace Street.
“We’re not ruling out a future Short Pump location,” Wong said. “But we want to see how this location does before we decide to take on another spot.”
Much of the contracting work on the Grace Street storefront is being completed by Maryland-based Kaywell Construction Corp., which has completed similar work at Kung Fu Teas in Northern Virginia and Maryland.
Donna Hobbs, commercial agent with Richmond-based Pollard & Bagby Inc., completed the three-year lease transaction on June 1. The building is owned by local businessman Walid M. Daniel.
When the shop opens as expected in late October or early November, Wong said the venture will be a big life change.
“I’m hoping that this will make my life easier so I can spend more time with my family, travel and learn something different,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Miki Ly.
Exciting to see another franchise concept enter the RVA market, continuing an upward trend in franchising activity in the region in 2016. Good luck to Kung Fu Tea!