a grand opening story


Saturday, June 22.

Camellia Rd Tea Bar threw its first party, a celebration of 2 years. A look back to the soft opening reminded me how whelming the first days had been. “Camellia Rd Tea Bar got slammed.” I remember that feeling. And I’ll always remember the first line Darwin and I worked, a line that just reached the doorway, a line that we worked by ourselves. Two full years later, and we saw a continuously refilling line that extended to the door for about 3 hours straight, a line that was worked by up to 6 people at times. By far, this was the busiest Camellia had ever been; but that first line is the one I’ll always remember.

We called it an anniversary party. But in spirit, it was the grand opening event that we never had. It should have happened in the first few months, but I just kept pushing it off. I thought that “Grand Opening” would mark a sense of new, importance, and completeness. But things never felt quite ready. The menu was tiny and needed expanding. Seating was a little awkward and the decor (or lack of) was dreadful. We left our soft opening posters up in the store for months until one day I quietly took them down. When people asked us if Camellia was officially grand opened, we told them not quite. Darwin called it our medium opening phase. I don’t want to discredit the earlier days or exaggerate the progress we’ve made; rather, I want to use our past as a lens for where we might go from here.

There have been so many milestones and “firsts” along the way. The first 5-star review. The first 1-star review. The first regular customer. The first comparison to other boba favorites. Then the menu expanded, bit by bit. The hours extended. Camellia catered its first wedding. There was our first team building and training meeting. I hired people. I fired people. I worked a back-to-back-to-back double shift weekend. I took two weeks off to travel. All the while, Camellia grew. And most importantly, we cared.

I told myself I’d work my ass off to “make it happen”. I gave Camellia priority; over my free time, relationships, and health. All the while thinking about what else Camellia needs, what the next step is, or how Camellia can do better. I read and watched other business people and their stories. Anything that aspires to be great is built one step at a time and I intended to build Camellia that way. As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, we ought to focus on the clouds (guiding philosophy) and dirt (detailed subject matter) as they are massively more important than the in-between. I’ve always loved learning. Growth mindset for the individual and Kaizen practices for the business are fundamental guiding principles we constantly try to improve on how we can provide better service to people. But the joke is, there is no real destination at the end of the (camellia) road. There’s always room to be better. So it doesn’t always make sense to wait for a certain point in time or marker to be ready for a soft opening, or a grand opening. You prepare relentlessly, but at some point you have to decide it’s time. Learn from mistakes. Refuel as needed. And when you’ve been open for two years, take a second to look, a second to say thank you.

To all the people who give us a chance. To all the people who took the time to come by to visit us on this day, and all the people who couldn’t but thought about us (and those who messaged us anyway). To all the people who feel strongly enough to write about us, good and bad. To those who drive hours to support us. To the people who took the time to get to know our names and to share Camellia with their own friends and family. To all my team members who help work with me behind the bar. To all the people who have worked with us and helped make Camellia happen, thank you. When we set out to make better boba milk tea, I didn’t know where we’d be going. But I do know that Camellia, and places like it, can only exist with people who support it. 


A big thank you to everyone.

-Ricky Lau


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