WICKER PARK — After building a frozen yogurt empire with his Forever Yogurt chain, CEO Mandy Calara has set his sights on Taiwanese bubble tea and Asian steamed buns with his first Bee & Tea shop opening in Wicker Park next month.
Calara plans to open the shop in the former Yo-Lite storefront at 1843 W. North Ave. as soon as construction is finished, he said.
Like his Forever Yogurt chain, Calara will franchise Bee & Tea and expects to expand to more locations, including Lakeview and Lincoln Park, within the next couple of months.
He'll also have a food truck for Bee & Tea, which he plans to debut soon after the shop opens.
Bee & Tea's menu, first reported by Eater Chicago, will include bubble or "boba" tea with about 20 different flavors and a variety of tapioca pearls and other mixings, like red bean.
Tea made with tapioca pearls became popular in Taiwan before reaching the U.S. West Coast and eventually expanding across the country, and Calara hopes he'll put a simpler, more customizable twist on the trend.
"The way we’ve got this set up now, I think its going to be a little bit more fun, a little more creative," Calara said.
There are still those in Chicago who haven't been introduced to bubble tea, and Calara hopes to bring the concept to the masses.
Customers will choose between black or green tea before being given the option to add milk, a flavor or a mix of flavors, and various types of tapioca, including tapioca flavored with pure honey (hence the "Bee" name).
A variety of smoothies made with fruit, Forever Yogurt base and tapioca pearls also will be on the menu, Calara said.
On the food side, Bee & Tea plans to have a variety of bao, or steamed buns filled with meat, veggies or a dessert filling.
Calara said he hoped to go beyond the traditional bao flavors like barbecue pork and chicken and create some more unusual combinations, such as possibly Mexican or American-inspired baos.
"I think were going to start to explore things that are a little more exciting," Calara said.
Calara, once a professional poker player, said he planned to follow roughly the same plan with Bee & Tea as he did with Forever Yogurt.
He started the frozen yogurt shop in Wicker Park in 2010 and soon expanded all over the city, into the suburbs and beyond, with Forever Yogurt locations reaching as far as Panama and China.
He also envisions potentially converting some Forever Yogurt shops so that they share space with Bee & Tea locations, he said.
Calara said the company was still hiring for the North Avenue shop, and those interested in working at Bee & Tea should email resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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