Named after the wide straws used to consume their delicious bubble tea drinks, Fat Straws was founded in 2002 in Dallas, Texas by Terry Pham, who quit his IT job to try his hand at something new. His perseverance, dedication and optimism paid off and now he owns and operates two locations. Terry has even been featured by “Entrepreneur Magazine” as an entrepreneur who successfully launched a business during a recession. We’ve been working with Terry since 2006 so he’s one of our oldest and most valued customers – his clear vision, extensive knowledge and role as a trendsetter in his industry is inspiring and honestly, you just couldn’t find a nicer guy!
How did it all start?
My Mom worked as a Field Consultant for the Southland Corporation, parent company of 7-Eleven. So I practically grew up in the service industry. This is before Starbucks, so back then everyone got their coffee at 7-Eleven in the mornings. Whenever stores were struggling, they would send my Mom in to bring up sales and improve operations in the under performing stores. What always amazed me was that customers would follow her to the new store. People literally would go out of their way during their morning commute to give her their business because of the relationships she had developed.
This had such an impression on me as a young man and it taught me to value relationships and the impact that people in the service industry can have on people. I was passionate about that relationship and knew that I wanted to be able to create and share experiences with people. That is what led me to Fat Straws. I remember the first time I had bubble tea and how it blew my mind. I obsessed over it and wanted to get one every day. There were few bubble tea stores here in Dallas and none of them were passionate about the customer experience and building relationships. I saw an opportunity and quit my full time IT job and decided to open Fat Straws. Twelve years later, here we are.
It sounds like Fat Straws is a fun place to work. Can you tell us about your company culture?
Our company culture is all about people. We take care of our customers, and we take care of each other. Because we are a small, privately owned business, every member of our team contributes to making our company run smoothly—from customer service to drink quality to all the smallest details that contribute to our unique Fat Straws identity. We are blessed to have a strong core group of individuals who can not only work hard, but also care about our customers and have fun in the process. Because we are a group of like-minded tea enthusiasts, we want our customers to experience and love bubble tea just as much as we do.
We know it was a big decision for you to start incorporating hot tea in your menu. What was it about Art of Tea that helped you make the jump and how did the risk pay off?
In 2006 I traveled to Las Vegas, and embarked on a quest to find the perfect wholesaler at the World Tea Expo. We had a three-day opportunity to meet with dozens of tea companies, try out their products, and find the right partner with whom we would build a long-term relationship.
Amidst the hundreds of vendors, Art of Tea caught my eye. Steve and I had great chemistry; he made me feel as though we were old friends, he was passionate about his company, and he shared my passions for tea and lasting relationships. I knew immediately that Art of Tea was the company I wanted to partner with.
This decision transformed our brand. We have always been known for making great boba, but the addition of Art of Tea’s loose leaf teas gave us more phenomenal drinks to pair with them. Not only did our menus change, many of our operational processes changed, and we ultimately restructured our brand around Art of Tea. Art of Tea is a large portion of the Fat Straws DNA. Our tea of the day rotates between some of the most favored blends like Blueberry Pomegranate, Happy Tea, and Passionfruit Jasmine which was voted Best Iced Tea of Dallas in 2007. We could have easily chosen another company and privately labeled our teas, but instead we elected to keep the Art of Tea brand and feature it proudly and prominently throughout our store. We even have one of our new menu boards dedicated to all of the amazing teas we carry labeled “ART OF TEA.”
Are there any exciting upcoming trends in the tea/drinks industry?
We have featured several seasonal “mocktail” drinks that bring together some favorite non-alcoholic mixed drinks with the iced tea world. A few years ago we hand crafted a Moji-tea which was Moroccan Mint Tea, fresh muddle mint leaves, with mangos or strawberries. Another favorite is our Jasberry Iced tea, which fused the refreshing, floral taste of White Tip Jasmine with muddled strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. As a group, we are continuously looking for creative and innovative ideas, as well as expanding on old ones. Part of the fun is to find new, exciting ways to transform our product into something that will surprise and excite our customer’s taste buds.
Do you have a favorite milk tea recipe you could share with our readers?
We are currently featuring a seasonal favorite, our Pumpkin Spice milk tea. It incorporates Art of Tea’s Pumpkin Pie rooibos tea, cream and just enough of Torani’s pumpkin sauce to highlight the notes of cinnamon, clove and ginger that make you feel as if you have harnessed the essence of autumn in a cup. Not only does it provide a delicious caffeine-free milk tea alternative for our customers, the authentic base of the rooibos tea allows for the natural flavors to shine through, as opposed to other beverage companies which just pile on seasonal flavored syrups to the drinks on their standard menu. When spring arrives, fans of this tea always lament its temporary loss.
[Interview by Katie Kirby. All photos provided by Fat Straws.]