a soft opening story


Wednesday, June 7.

I slept through my phone’s first alarm. Well, more like sleep-snoozed it. I have this bad habit of doing that. Sometimes I’ll wake up to a surge of anxiety, with my hand clutching the phone and one finger over the snooze button.

My subconscious acts out in stress, dreading the day ahead; after all, the moment after my feet hit my bedroom carpet my brain starts filling up with an ever increasing to-do list. Teas needed to be prepared, errands needed to be run, supplies needed to be bought; I made my way to Camellia to find Darwin already there and chatting with a food writer.


After some pleasantries I jumped into the day’s work.

Thursday, June 8.

Camellia Rd Tea Bar quietly opened its doors. There really wasn’t much in the way of seating or decor. Some wooden tables and white chairs spread out. A bit of art placed along the standing counter. Very bare walls. We did have two green potted plants; the ones that signify a newly opened (or re-opened) Chinese restaurant. And there were a few pieces of art. The words SOFT OPENING were printed underneath the Camellia Rd logo onto plain 8.5”x11” papers around the store. These two words would become my shield during the weekend; both a warning and an apology to the people to come.

Friday, June 9.

Candice Woo, founding editor at Eater San Diego, posted about Camellia. “Building a Better Breed of Boba Milk Tea in Kearny Mesa”. We heard a few references to Candice and Eater here and there from customers, a light foreshadowing. But overall the day was quite similar to Thursday. A few curious people floating in here and there, with our first little line in the evening around 8pm. A weak stress test, but we passed.

Saturday, June 10.

Camellia Rd Tea Bar got slammed. People came in wave after wave right from opening. Darwin and I paddled onward like mad men struggling to stay afloat, making drink after frenzied drink as best we could (neither of us actually know how to swim). By the evening, we had basically sold out of teas and closed up early. Something neither of us will ever forget; one guy had come in at the end of the night on a boba run for his friends. He went down the menu (we had a basic chalkboard listed our teas) and item after item we told him each was sold out. The scene was quite comical, if not for the discomfort and guilt I felt. That night, determined to do better, we brewed as much tea as we had leaf and containers for. We were at Camellia well into the a.m. (and back then, we were still lugging gallons of filtered water from our plaza neighbor Pure Water Health).

On Sunday, June 11.

Camellia Rd Tea Bar sold out for the second day in a row. We learned a few things since Saturday, so things were a bit smoother (I got good at quickly tearing straw wrappers). But while we were focused on having enough teas, we never expected to run out of sugar. Pledging to use a sweetener made in-house from organic cane sugar came with its struggles. When we finished our last bottle of simple syrup, we couldn’t just pull another one from storage. We would have to make a whole new batch. So we closed the store early again, and after discussing, agreed to stay closed for the following Monday and Tuesday to regroup. I went home and slept for 10 hours.

I wrote the above in a journaling exercise in 2017, sometime shortly after we first opened. I’ve edited it for clarity but preserved the flavor of my original thoughts and reactions as much as possible.

-Ricky Lau


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