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The Importance of Authentic Passion in Business For Matthew Wong, Co-Founder and CEO of Tea and Milk in NYC, channeling passion into creativity is a core operating principle.

By Emily Washcovick

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Tea and Milk

Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.

Creativity and authenticity are two key factors in creating a successful business. For Mathew Wong, co-founder and CEO of Tea and Milk in New York City, channeling passion into creativity is a core operating principle. To create a product that could be a dime-a-dozen, but somehow rises above, is not an easy feat. This week's Yelp reviewer Jando S. (who is also Yelp Queens Community Manager) notes, "Before the bubble tea craze, Tea and Milk was practically the only boba game in Astoria. And still today, they remain one of the only successful non-chain bubble tea businesses in NYC."

Small businesses are the backbone and lifeblood of our communities. However, it's unfortunately too easy to get trampled by popular chains that can produce things at scale and usually at a lower price point.

To stay relevant and attract loyal customers, a unique and superior product is crucial. For Tea and Milk, that meant real ingredients and special flavors. Instead of powdered milks and powdered taros that many bubble tea shops use, they found tea leaves, locally sourced milks, and taro from local supermarkets. These fresh ingredients set them apart. Additionally, they have a revolving menu of flavors based on the availability of seasonal fruits.

"We wanted to be creative," Mathew shared. "We wanted to make things different. We wanted to make sure that whoever is drinking our drink tastes the love, passion, and creativity that we put in there."

Whether you're starting a business or rethinking your current offerings, focus on sharing and showcasing your passion—let it shine through your business operations and product or services. Why is your business important to you? What drives you? Don't lose sight of that, and make sure your customers can sense that in the end product.

It's also important that your staff knows and embodies your vision. It's difficult—if not impossible—to find staff that will be just as invested in your product/business as you are. But by sharing your passion and the mission of your business, they're more likely to translate those sentiments into their work and the customers that come into your store.

Here are a few other key takeaways from this week's episode:

  • Research and L&D. You may have an idea. You may have a great idea. And you may even know how you want to execute that idea, but don't skip out on research and L&D (Learning & Development). Mathew and his team spent a lot of time developing the menu, researching the ingredients, and making sure that when they did bring their business to life, it was not only their idea, but an idea that customers would get behind.

  • Educate your customers. You know all about your business or product, but that's because it's your passion. Not everyone will have that same level of knowledge. Take the time to teach your customers (in a helpful way, without being condescending) about your product or service so that they can understand what they're getting and learn a bit along the way.

  • Show care for your community. The community that can make or break you, so show them that you care. During the pandemic, Mathew and his team took part in an initiative called, "Pay it Forward Astoria '' where Tea and Milk and neighboring business 10 Thousand Foxes Tattoo gave out 60 drinks on the house to people in the community. "We wanted to do something for the people to make them happy," said Mathew. "And then they'll probably do something for someone else to make their day. And you have it trickle down a little bit."

In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we close with an important message from Mathew:

"With the pandemic, a lot of people saw Asian Americans as the virus itself. It does hurt a lot because then there's hate. That's why food is such a powerful tool—because you can taste the passion someone puts into their food and drink.

"We just want to make sure that everyone understands that all we want is unity, love, respect, happiness—all the stuff that everyone should have. I think that's what everyone wants."

And on that note, listen to the episode below to hear directly from Mathew and Jando, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Emily Washcovick

Small Business Expert at Yelp

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is meticulously focused on helping local business owners succeed and grow. Her expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Through speaking engagements and thought leadership, Emily shares industry insights that entrepreneurs in any business category can leverage for the growth and well-being of their businesses. She is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media, where each episode features conversations with a business owner and a reviewer about the story and lessons behind their interactions.

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