Crazy craving: How one Lehigh student started her own business

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As an avid bubble tea drinker and statistics and finance double major, Snow Li, ’19, wondered how she could combine her interests together. Her solution? Opening up her own bubble tea cafe.

Right across from Roasted Bethlehem, YoBo Cafe opened its doors to the community in spring 2016. Li is often seen at the cafe studying or making tea for customers between her classes.

“I love bubble tea, but all the bubble tea in the market is so unhealthy,” Li said.

Typically high in sugar and calories, she said she wanted to recreate her favorite drink, but without the junk. Having no prior experience, Li worked hard to master the art of making her own bubble tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink consisting of brewed tea leaves, milk and tapioca pearls.

While traveling through New York and China, she worked hard to perfect her drinks, ordering four to five bubble teas from different shops to curate the best ingredients for her own menu. Watching hours of YouTube tutorials and talking to many bubble tea cafe staff members also helped build her knowledge.

As a student in the College of Business and Economics, Li said she often uses what she learned in the classroom to her business, but has trouble applying it vice versa.

“Crazy things always come up,” she said. “One time, the bathroom was clogged, so I had to call the plumber in the middle of class.”

Juggling academics, extracurriculars and YoBo has helped Li with her time management and has taught her strong communication skills.

YoBo’s manager, 21-year-old Jadin Diaz, can attest to Li’s hard work.

“She’s really tapped into the culture of it more than I am,” Diaz said. “She has a really authentic view on things, and she’ll take that and bring it to me.”

Being the same age as Li, Diaz said she admires Li’s work ethic and ability to maintain and provide a business while juggling summer internships and traveling back to her home in China.

“It sounds really easy, but in a business, you have to communicate with your staff,” Li said. “Sometimes you have to say something hard, but I don’t want to rub them the wrong way. You have to think of a way to be vocal so both sides are happy.”

One of Li’s main goals is for YoBo to be integrated into the Lehigh community. Two months of paperwork and inspections finally approved its entry into the Farrington Square farmer’s market, allowing the business to bring bubble tea to Lehigh students every Thursday in the spring, summer and fall.

The long tables with lamps and lounge areas also allow customers to unwind, hang out with friends or study.

Li said she wanted to create a comfortable location for the community and for students to study in as an alternative to the library.

Kyra Dimaranan, ’21, said she loves the atmosphere at YoBo.

“I used to study at bubble tea cafes in high school, so I feel like I’m reminiscing when I come here,” she said.

Li is always looking for ways to improve the atmosphere of the store for customers, but her top priority is to find a new replacement for her position upon graduation this year.

Despite her hard work, Li has no intention of continuing her business in Bethlehem. Li wishes to pursue her MBA upon graduation and then return to China for future jobs.

With some prospective buyers inline already, her only hope is that they will maintain what she has created. Her main worry is that the next owners will change the environment she has perfected.

Her other idea is to try and sell it to Lehigh University.

As a member of the Lehigh Consulting Group, she thinks it will be a great learning experience for student members to run her store and get a hands-on learning experience.

Similarly to how she grew as a student and business owner, she said she wants others to take what they learn and use it in the real world. However, with her future plans and successor still undetermined, it’s hard to say where YoBo seemingly short-lived success will be in a year from now.

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