Tea and Tea Bubble Tea Shop home
Meet Kao Khamphilavong, owner of tea and tea in Portland and Beaverton, Oregon

Meet Kao Khamphilavong: Q&A With the Owner

Meet Kao Khamphilavong in CanvasRebel's Q&A, an entrepreneur sharing his journey of opening Tea & Tea, a successful Oregon bubble tea shop chain.

In this insightful Q&A hosted by CanvasRebel.com, Kao Khamphilavong, the passionate entrepreneur behind the successful Tea & Tea bubble tea shops in Oregon, shares his journey of resilience and determination. From observing details in other shops to experimenting with recipes at home, Kao’s relentless pursuit of his dream led to the opening of his first bubble tea shop, and eventually, to a thriving business with multiple locations. His story of overcoming challenges, particularly during the pandemic, is a testament to the power of community support and the courage to pursue one’s dreams.

Hi Kao, thanks for joining us today. What do you think it takes to be successful?

The courage to act on moving forward with your goals even when you don’t know how everything will come together. When you seek, the answers will appear. Before I opened my first bubble tea shop, I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I just knew I wanted to open one. I didn’t know how to make the drinks. I didn’t know where I could get my supplies. I didn’t know where to get the equipment. I didn’t even know anything about building a retail store from scratch.

Then I went to work looking for the answers. I went to as many bubble shops as I could and observed every detail from decorations, tables and chairs, counters, equipment, how drinks were made, how many employees were there, and took mental notes of how my shop would look like. I went on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google trying to look for information. I spent hours on YouTube watching videos on how to make drinks and boba. I flew out to one of the suppliers who offered to show me how to brew tea and make drinks from their ingredients. I experimented with making drinks at home over and over again for my family to try. That was just the first part of learning.

They said our drinks helped provide them with comfort food during the pandemic.

Kao Khamphilavong | Tea & Tea Owner

The other part was building the actual store and working with contractors and the city to make my goal come true. One year after conceiving the idea in my head, I opened my first bubble shop. Four years after opening the first shop, we now have 4 shops in the Portland and Beaverton area and a brand new location on the way in downtown Portland. Have the courage to act on your dream even if it is just a tiny little step. You might not know how, but the answers will come as you seek. I promise you that.

As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?

My name is Kao Khamphilavong. I live in West Linn, OR. I have always been an entrepreneur. I had owned a family restaurant, mortgage brokerage, and sold life insurance. Today, I am the owner of Tea & Tea (Bubble tea shop) in Oregon. We have 4 shops in Portland and Beaverton, and the fifth location is on the way in downtown Portland. We opened the first location in Portland on November 9th, 2019. It was scary and exciting at the same time. We had a very successful 2 days grand opening.

A few months later, the pandemic started and the whole country was shutting down. Looking back, that was the worst time to be opening our first shop. But we kept our doors open with pick-up orders only and with the support of the community, we kept staying afloat. It was a very scary time to own a small business but we just didn’t have any other choice but to stay committed.

Here we are four years later and 3 more shops opened up and another one is on the way. We kept the shop open during the pandemic for our employees who needed the income and the community who needed some comfort food during the pandemic. We have people who came to us and thanked us for keeping our doors open. They said our drinks helped provide them with comfort food during the pandemic.

Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?

Starting a new business is always scary. You put everything you got into the business. Not only do you need the funds to open the store and buy the supplies and equipment, you will also need more money to get you through the first year of opening. Since I put all my funds into opening the shop, there is little left to operate and keep the business going. To save money, I had to work from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm every single day for the first 9 months without taking a salary.

My goal was to get everyone paid every two weeks and make sure we had supplies to keep operating. Working every day wasn’t hard to do because it was my own business. If I don’t do it, who else will do it? It also provides me joy to see my business running and people getting to enjoy our drinks. It is also very satisfying to give opportunities to young kids who have never had jobs before and watch them grow. Many of them ended up staying with us until they had to leave for college.

Can you open up about a time when you had a really close call with the business?

It was a very scary time when the shutdown happened during the pandemic. I decided to keep the shop open even if we can only do pick-up only. There are many times I had to stretch the funds just to make payroll. Many times, I had to use credit cards to get us through the payroll and get supplies for the shop. I can’t even take a salary for myself in order to meet all the expenses. There were a couple of times during the first year, that I thought the shop would not make it.

The very first time was right after the pandemic hit. I didn’t know how we were going to survive. We just got through the winter months and now we have to go through the pandemic. There were many sleepless nights but I just took it one day at a time. Thanks to the support of the community, we got through the first difficult year.