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Meet Stacey Kwong of Milk+T in Little Tokyo, DTLA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stacey Kwong.

Stacey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Ever since high school, I always wanted to open up my own business. I wasn’t quite sure what kind of business I wanted to start. All I knew was that I wanted to provide some sort of safe space– somewhere where people could feel comfortable and not judged. It wasn’t until college where my best friend had the idea for self-serve boba. I loved her idea and she allowed me to take it. Throughout college, I played around with the idea, had several different concepts, but ultimately ended up with what we have today: MILK+T.

In April 2014, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and in December of that same year, he passed away. I took the pain and the hurt and fueled it all into MILK+T. I spent so much time and energy on the business plan and other aspects, I neglected my school work. But in the moment, I didn’t care. And hey, I still managed to graduate. Right after graduating CSUN in May 2015, I jumped right into the business and never looked back.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
We began MILK+T’s journey with a food truck… or rather, a boba truck. We dubbed ourselves as “The world’s first self-serve boba truck”, although many mistook it as “The world’s first boba truck”. But nope, credit to that goes to The Boba Truck!

Having a truck proved to be much more difficult than your average brick and mortar. There were days where we prepped all the tea and boba (a 3 hour process), only to have the truck not turn on. We couldn’t sell inside the commissary parking lot, so into the trash it went. By the time we sold the truck, we had replaced the alternator, the starter, suspension, transmission, all the tires, fuel pump, etc. etc. etc. We probably single-handedly funded our mechanic’s child’s college tuition.

But despite all that, we wouldn’t change a thing. Being stranded outside USC at 3 am taught us things that most business owners didn’t have to go through. It taught us persistence, patience, and to not be scared of crawling underneath an 8-ton food truck to see what’s wrong with it.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
MILK+T is a self-serve boba bar where we specialize in providing our customers with a unique experience and quality drinks. We don’t use any high fructose corn syrup in our drinks, nor do we use any powders. We handcraft our syrups from scratch using real fruit and cane sugar– something not a lot of traditional shops do. We also give away free glass jars and offer 10% off when the customer brings it back to reuse. That, in turn, decreases waste while increasing customer retention.

But we’re also much more than that. MILK+T has grown to be a community where new entrepreneurs have the ability to connect with us and set up pop-up shops. Artists have the chance to showcase their work, and students find it a safe space where they can study or do their homework.

We started MILK+T as a boba bar— but it’s shown us how much more it could be.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I was always teased and bullied for not being like the rest of my friends. Instead of Barbies and Cabbage Patch Dolls, I liked Hotwheels and enjoyed playing basketball. Instead of having tea time and playing house, I would spend my free time outside with my neighbor building forts and bow and arrows. I was “tomboyish” to say the least and classmates would constantly pick on me.

In high school, rumors started to spread that I was a lesbian. I was raised to be Christian, so being queer was against all religious rules. I would adamantly turn down all accusations and would even lie to myself, convincing myself that I was straight. I had attended a church in Chinatown all my life, where I met some lifelong friends and truly accepting people. But at the same time, I realized how toxic and judgmental some people were. After coming out, people from that same church showed animosity towards me which ultimately turned me away from the religion altogether.

It wasn’t until freshman year of college where I realized… it’s okay to be gay. It’s okay to be different– in fact, it’s better to be different. Why blend in with all the others when you can stand out and be unique? Starting MILK+T really opened up the door to meeting others like myself. I met more people from the LGBTQ+ community who all had similar stories like mine. Now we hang pride flags inside all of our stores to let people know, “Hey, you’re accepted here. It doesn’t matter what race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or even religion you are. All are welcome.”

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Tommy Trinh

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