In these days of coronavirus and an uncertain economy, starting a business can be a scary proposition, especially selling a new product that may or may not prove to be popular. Rather than take the financial risk of securing a location with a lease and ordering stock, some potential retailers are choosing to test their products in pop-up events before making a serious commitment. Introducing her Bubbles by Lani, young V.I. entrepreneur Quelania John-Baptiste is holding her first bubble tea pop-up event Sunday at the new 81C event space.
John-Baptiste is a 2016 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School. Working at a restaurant, she found she had a love for the service industry. She was planning on taking her skills to the Big Apple, New York, when the pandemic hit and she had to cancel her plans. Because she quit in anticipation of the move, she no longer had a job.
Meanwhile, a friend introduced John-Baptiste to bubble tea and she began making it herself in August. Since she wasn’t working, John-Baptiste thought now would be a good time to create her own job and open a bubble tea business.
“There are not a lot of jobs around, so I made one myself,” she said.
Bubble tea is a tea-based drink that includes boba “pearls,” either chewy tapioca balls or popping balls filled with fruit juice. The drink is usually made with black or green tea.
“I realized there’s no bubble tea here, so why don’t I start a business and bring in something new made locally? It’s quick, easy and inexpensive to make, like iced tea but with a twist. It’s super good, and once you start liking it, it’s really addictive. I think it’s great for people born and raised here to do something new, and if I can, bring something new to my community.”
John-Baptiste began looking for a location where she could sell her teas and saw a listing for 81C, a new pop-up event space created by local entrepreneur Zack Zook. Located on Strand Gade near Market Square, the two-story building was originally built in 1810 as a rum warehouse and residence and is now completely renovated and restored. Zook’s aim is to create a platform for creative event rental, artist/entrepreneur networking and giving young entrepreneurs such as John-Baptiste a space to test new products or hold supplemental events to complement their online business.
A deal was struck, and the first Bubbles by Lani pop-up networking event will be hosted Sunday from 1 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“It’s a good way to test the product and make sure it’s something people want before I pay $5,000 a month in rent for something people don’t really like,” said John Baptist. “Meanwhile, people can have it, and if I never end up having a store, at least I can show something new to my people, brought to them by somebody who grew up here. If I can’t go all the way with it, that’s fine with me. It’s more important for me to do it and say that I’ve done it than to hold my breath and not start until I make sure from start to end that this is going to work, because I cannot control the future. So, today, if I can stand up at a counter and sell some people bubble tea, then I’m going to, and if tomorrow, some crazy murder hornet comes into my house and eats up all my tea leaves, then I’ve still sold bubble tea and I can check it off my list.”
At the event, John-Baptiste will introduce her bubble tea for $6.50 for a 16-ounce drink. A limited menu will include her personal favorite, blueberry and peach with strawberry boba, as well as a brown sugar and milk tea with tapioca boba, a classic milk tea and a strawberry, passion fruit and mango mixture.
“I’m just excited to have people try it. If this is the only time that they get to try bubble tea, I’m the one that brought it to them and that’s kind of cool,” she said. “Plus, I can show other local girls that they should just do something, just go for it. You don’t have to have a big place, just have an idea and roll with it. My whole life, I just do things. They don’t always go all the way, but at least I can say I had the experience and if I don’t try, then what do I have? You just take it one step at a time and figure it out. Just keep on making moves and you’ll end up somewhere. Maybe it won’t be where you expected, but it’s going to be somewhere different than where you started, and I think that in itself is an accomplishment.”
Visit www.bubblesbylani.com for retractable metal straws and Princess Bubbles and Prince Boba plush toys, or visit the Bubble by Lani Facebook page for more information.