Boba tea shop to replace cobblery in Menlo Park


Plans for a new boba tea shop in town moved forward when the Menlo Park Planning Commission gave the proposal its full support on Monday, March 25. It would replace a shuttered cobblery, or shoe repair shop, at 993 El Camino Real in the small shopping center at the intersection of El Camino Real and Menlo Avenue.

The commission voted 6-0, with Susan Goodhue absent, to permit the boba tea shop despite limited on-site parking. Boba tea, or bubble tea, is a type of tea-based beverage that often contains milk, sugar and chewy tapioca pearls, among other variations.

The business applicant, Mandy Dang, explained to the Planning Commission that while no new parking is planned at the site, the business is expected to have rapid turnover, mitigating parking demand. Most customers will get to-go drinks, which take two minutes or less to prepare, she said.

Dang told The Almanac she's planning to open the shop, which will be called "Tea It Up," sometime in the fall.

"I simply love boba tea," she told The Almanac in an email. "I don’t believe boba is a trend or temporary fad. To me, boba tea is a combination of delicious indulgence and cultural appeal. Boba represents epicurean delicacy, youthfulness and timelessness. Menlo Park has been waiting for a boba shop, and (Tea It Up) is answering the call."

The proposal was met with enthusiasm by several commissioners.

"Menlo Park is in dire need of boba tea, so I hope we can make this happen," said Commissioner Michael Doran.

"Thank you for bringing tea to our town," said Commissioner Andrew Barnes.

Commissioner John Onken also supported the application and urged the applicant to put together "decent signage" that does not "look like some of the junkier shops we have around here."

Small business struggles

According to Jessica Roth, owner of The Cobblery on California Avenue in Palo Alto, the former shoe repair shop at the site was owned for many years by Ron Norbart, who worked with Roth's parents to bring Dutch shoe repair machines and techniques to the area in the 1980s.

Norbart ran the Menlo Park business separate from her parents' business, Roth explained, but they remained close family friends. In September 2017, Norbart contacted her because he had to leave the business, and Roth took over the lease. She said she tried to stay there, but noted that it was difficult to hire people to work in the store, and it eventually became infeasible to remain at that location. The store closed in June 2018.

Running a small business in the Bay Area, she added, is difficult. Paying for employees, rent and health care costs all contribute to pressures that are pushing small businesses to their limits, she added. She said she doesn't think small businesses will survive in the area unless it becomes easier for small business owners to provide insurance to their employees, or unless cities start buying buildings to provide below-market-rate rent to some tenants. Otherwise, she said, neighborhoods will suffer when there's no place for people to do things like get their shoes fixed, visit the laundromat, or go to the salon.

The Cobblery has acquired a new five-year lease, so it will remain in place for the time being. However, the lease did come with a rent increase, and Roth said she's had to take a pay cut.

That said, she added, "This is my passion. I grew up on California Avenue. ... I'd rather do what I like for a little less right now and still be here."


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11 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2019 at 4:34 pm

The planning commission has never seen an excuse for ignoring required parking spaces that they didn't like.

BTW Onken, way to go with your classy support of "the junkier shops we have around here."

4 people like this
Posted by Jim Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2019 at 4:56 pm

Whatever in the world is Boba tea?

6 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 1, 2019 at 5:02 pm

If you don't know what is boba tea, you probably don't have kids. Boba tea is more popular among kids than ice cream these days.

9 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2019 at 5:03 pm

Jim it's a "tea" drink from Taiwan which in it various recipes can have more grams of sugar than a classic Coke. Another glass of obesity which can lead to Type II diabetes.

4 people like this
Posted by Steve_J
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2019 at 5:23 pm

Steve_J is a registered user.

Just what the kids need, lots of sugar.

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 1, 2019 at 5:34 pm

A regular boba tea is around 250 calories, so it is about the same amount of empty calories as a large 20 ounce soda or a cup of ice cream. No, kids should not have one (of any of these) every day. Trying to ban them all the time is not going to make you a very popular parent, though.

8 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 2, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Boba tea is a sickeningly sweet drink with giant tapioca balls which require a large-diameter (plastic) straw to consume. I tried it a couple of times & nearly hurled. The balls are a choking hazard for toddlers & plastic straws are supposedly to be banned soon. Are there any paper straw big enough for this?

It's unfortunate that this fad is coming to town but with limited parking, I predict it won't last long. More pedestrian traffic here across the muni parking lot might pose hazards, especially if the main patrons are kids who may not be alert to moving vehicles.

13 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 2, 2019 at 3:30 pm

Reading the previous comments makes me realize how unfamiliar with boba tea many Menlo Park residents remain, despite the rising popularity of boba and the tremendous demand for the drink in neighboring cities such as Palo Alto or Redwood city. Most stores now allow customers to customize the sweetness, and if you like, you can have a healthy sugar-free flavored tea - this is also they only way I drink it. I hope this place opens soon. Menlo Park is so behind in having new businesses, and it needs to have at least one boba store for the residents. I’m tired of having to go out of my way to to get the kids their milk teas from another town.

7 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 2, 2019 at 9:00 pm

It is interesting to see that the unfamiliarity of this popular drink triggers such skepticism and consternation. If this were a new ice cream shop or French patisserie, I bet few would blink an eye and in fact even welcome it with some anticipation. This is not a dessert that one should have every day, but can be enjoyed without judgment just as one might have a piece of cake (gasp) every now and then. I wish the business good success.

3 people like this
Posted by Marjorie Z
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 4, 2019 at 9:15 am

Sorry to read all this rancor about my favorite indulgence. I am happy there will be a new boba tea shop in Menlo Park! My hope is that this one will offer a higher quality product set than the other downtown Menlo Park options, which I'm sorry to say do not meet my standards. Yes, chill on the parking issue, boba is mostly an on-the-go item. At a good boba place, levels of sweetness and ice can be specified. They often also offer fruit smoothies and healthy additions such as red bean and aloe vera. I have been a boba tea fan for over fifteen yesrs and I manage to be lean and fit. Your kids can be too and still enjoy boba tea and support a local business.

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