On the Line: Robert Hoang and Truong Kim of Milk Box
Men in black
It was a chance meeting well over a year ago, in a food hall that was still under construction (now Union Market Tustin— not Mission Viejo) that I accidentally met the founders of Milk Box. While we only met briefly, what I recall was their enthusiasm about a new milk tea concept they planned to open. Fast forward to last month, when they are full steam ahead on location number three in Westminster. I switch gears from a traditional restaurant interview for something refreshing, as Truong and Robert tackle my questions before their next big opening.
Now that you're about to open your third location, what have you learned from the first two spots that you're applying to this one?
Robert Hoang: Beyond the expected lessons like operating and logistic efficiency, what I've learned is nothing is guaranteed and success takes a lot of patience. Everyone must get in and get their hands dirty. There is no secret "get rich" recipe. No business decision, no promotion, no single person can move the brand. We have to show up every day and work as if someone is trying to take it all away from us. We have to focus. We have to find answers to tough questions. We have to believe. Our success must be won by many. We can't just show up and expect to be successful. On the other hand, I must remind myself that I can't expect massive success overnight, and I must understand that consistency beats intensity.
Truong Kim: I never imagined opening three shops in just about a year! I definitely learned a lot from the amount of growth Milk Box has experienced in such a short amount of time. Besides improving on operational processes, I have learned that communication is key. Communication can help get everyone on the same page and in the right direction. But the right communication can inspire the entire team, which in turn can inspire everyone else beyond that team.
Let's talk about what makes the newest location special.
T.K.: Our newest location in Westminster has a drive-thru!
R.H.: Beyond the obvious drive-thru window - the new community and our new staff makes the newest location special. On both sides of the counter, the people will be different from our previous two locations. This location will have its own fingerprint - and the inherited challenges that come with that. Most notable is the surrounding competition. This is special and acts as a test that our young brand has never had to endure.
How did you two meet?
T.K.: In college! We both went to California State University of Fullerton. We were in the same circle of friends.
One food you can't live without.
R.H.: Pho because it's relatively healthy and I love anything noodle soup.
T.K.: It's not actually food, but I can't live without my green juice. Specifically, I have a healthy addiction for Whole Foods' green juice called The Doctor's Orders. It contains cucumber, celery, apple, spinach, parsley, lemon and ginger. Add carrots and it's heaven in a cup. It's packed with micronutrients and tastes so damn good!
Last thing you looked up online:
R.H.: Van - searching for a used van for the business.
T.K.: Ted Talks. They are so inspiring and interesting to watch. Maybe I'll get to be a Ted Talks speaker one day.
Most popular beverage on the menu. And what's new? Any plans to include food?
R.H.: Matcha is the most popular. Because of this reason and the many benefits matcha has to offer, we are expanding our matcha offering. Stay tuned for the menu drop.
T.K.: Each drink is unique and well-balanced, but the most popular drink would be our iced Matcha Milk Tea. We are excited to announce that we are in the process of expanding our matcha line. Follow us on social media @milkboxbar for updates! In regards to serving food, we plan on strategically having them at our shops— especially at our newest location in Westminster!
How did you decide on your specific concept? And how does it differ from similar ones out there?
R.H.: July 2nd is our one year anniversary, but the Milk Box concept was born in the summer of 2014. At the time, the landscape was littered with BOGO and what we call fake milk teas. From the very beginning, our goal was to be a people-focused business that made the very best "real" milk teas. Why? Because we believed people deserved better. Because we care and believe that love is the most powerful force for change.
By no means of the imagination did Milk Box invent milk tea. We're not here to change that— just here to fix the game and set a new standard. Being able to reach just one more person each day and inspire them to take a more balanced, empowered and positive approach to health is what keeps us going. We are different. Milk Box is a people-centered community serving tea; not a tea company serving customers. We are genuinely interested in educating our staff and fans, and will not compromise our integrity in the name of profit. Our passion for tea and human connection will change the way people perceive this childhood classic. Unlike other brands that rely on gimmicks and bright, artificial food coloring to lure customers. Our focus on quality and genuine relationships will earn the respect and loyalty of our fans. We will succeed by creating an experience that comes to life because of how we treat our staff and how we treat people.
T.K.: I really enjoyed drinking milk teas growing up, except everything came from powders and artificial syrups. It was only after I started working out and learning about proper nutrition that I realized I was consuming a lot of junk. This is why Milk Box was born. There was a void in the milk tea world on using real and unquestionable ingredients. But Milk Box goes beyond just using real ingredients. Our very existence is the belief that everyone deserves better. This is why we are transparent with what we use, how we do it and why we do what we do. Many other places are trying to follow our lead, but they are missing key recipes that make up our brand.
What's your favorite beverage on the Milk Box menu?
R.H.: Jasmine tea was my favorite as a young kid, and still is today. So much nostalgia. Growing up, there was always a pot of hot jasmine tea at my grandma's house.
T.K.: It varies! Currently, my favorite is our Matcha Milk Tea. It's crafted with our premium matcha, paired with Organic Valley lactose-free milk and sweetened with a splash of our house made syrup! By the time this article gets published, we will have my next favorite drink, the Cookies & Cream Matcha Milk Tea! I am suddenly thirsty.
Where did you grow up?
T.K.: I was born and raised right here in Orange County.
Favorite meal growing up:
R.H.: A Whopper meal because Burger King is where my family went to celebrate special occasions. We grew up poor, so it was special.
T.K.: Everything my mom cooked! I am probably biased, but she makes the best Vietnamese food in the world. I am suddenly hungry.
Tell me something most people don't know about you.
R.H.: (Laughs) I'm not that interesting. But something I want people to know is that I'm a follower of Christ.
T.K.: Something most people don't know about me is that I never graduated college. At the time, I had only a few classes left before I could graduate, but decided to drop out of school and pursue my career in cyber security. School was really never for me, but I always believe in constant learning. Whether it's reading or watching YouTube videos, I am always thirsty to learn something new. Part of me wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve anything I wanted as long as I hustle, with or without a college degree.
Truong: Do you prefer a specific type of workout? Or do you do a lot of different activities/sports?
I love to lift! Everything from benches to squats to deadlifts. Even with my busy schedule, I still try to set aside time to workout.
Robert: Tell me more about your job outside of Milk Box.
Outside of Milk Box I still hold a full-time career as a Fraud Investigator. That, and a full-time job as husband and father to a beautiful family.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
R.H.: Success isn't defined by how many locations we open. We must maintain the integrity of our brand and the culture of humanity written in our mission statement. The only number that should matter is one. One experience at a time. One customer and one staff at a time.
T.K.: Not a hard lesson, but the most important lesson I have learned is to not let anyone get in your way of reaching your goals or fulfilling your dreams. Almost everyone said "no" when I decided on leaving my full-time career and selling my house so I could open up a boba shop. You just have to be brave, do whatever it takes, and go after your dreams if you want to live life without regrets.
Favorite places to eat.
R.H.: At mom's house. Nothing beats a good home cooked meal. If not there, anything with noodle soup.
T.K.: Some of my favorite places to eat at are my parent's house, The Bazaar, The Church Key, Bestia, Republique, Portside, Pig Pen, Cubed, Shuck Oyster Bar, Cucina Enoteca, True Food Kitchen, Oshima and any place Chef Michael Pham is a part of. For dessert: Sidecar Doughnuts, Afters Ice Cream, Sweet Combforts and Honey & Butter Macarons! You can say I have a lot of favorites (laughs).
What's your favorite childhood memory?
R.H.: My mom. She is my hero. I don't have your typical response to this question because I didn't have a typical childhood. As a young, single mom with three little kids, my mom didn't have a lot of time or money for us. But she always knew the right things to say to lift me up. She had a way of making me feel as though I was enough. She didn't have much to give, but her love was worth its weight in gold.
T.K.: Saturday morning cartoons, 90s hip hop, Ninendo games, my dad playing the saxophone, and my mom's home cooked meals.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
R.H.: I'd like to spend more time with my family. It's been rough for my kids, especially my daughter. Recently (for Father's Day), she was asked, "What makes your dad laugh?" Her response was, "He doesn't laugh anymore because he works too much."
T.K.: If I didn't open up Milk Box, I think I would still be doing something with food. Even though I came from the technology field, the food industry excites me. That's why I workout, so that I can eat more (laughs).
Learn more about Milk Box at www.milkboxbar.com.
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