What's popping at Andora's Bubble Tea Shop?
An Erie favorite gets back on its feet as it reopens for business
Bubble tea, boba, pearl milk tea. Since its opening last May, Andora's Bubble Tea Shop has successfully landed this popular Taiwanese beverage on Erie's radar. Located on the corner of State Street and North Park Row, customers are welcomed into the breezy, local-art-clad café and offered a variety of freshly brewed teas paired with their choice if tapioca, chewy jellies, or popping juice-filled boba. Yet, like many other local businesses, owners Andy and Rora Steinmetz are grappling with the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has left in its wake.
Erie natives Andy and Rora found themselves back in the 814 after years of traveling around the country. What the two also found upon their return was a craving for boba, a drink popular in their previous home of California, that was left unmet. Thus, Erie's first bubble tea shop was conceptualized.
"We just wanted to create a place that didn't exist for us when we were younger, a place that was just fun and modern, a place we'd want to frequent," Andy explained. "I think we've done that, being a unique cafe place...It was just a place people came and hung out, or grab drinks and walked around the park, and I guess that's what we always saw it as. Well that and making bomb boba, that's clearly the most important part, making a product we personally crave every day."
After securing their current location in the fall of 2018, the owners said that the process was pretty much a straight shot to introducing Erie to bubble tea. What followed was a montage of redesigning, rebuilding, securing equipment, finding suppliers, and hiring employees until the final unveiling of Andora's Bubble Tea Shop on 516 State St.
Business was booming, Andora's quickly became a local favorite as word spread of the new café only a walk away from Perry Square Park. For Andora's, options are the name of the game. Build your own boba with a large selection of classic flavors: taro, matcha, Thai tea, house blend, coconut, etc. Or choose from the ever-changing seasonal menu full of newly innovated concoctions. All this put the shop far ahead of its projections going into St. Patrick's Day following the winter season. Then, COVID-19 hit, and statewide shutdown orders were sent out.
"We had been having supply-side issues with our suppliers since February as most of our products come directly from Taiwan," Andy remembered. "Mostly our advertising has been organic at this juncture, mainly organic unpaid social media posts. Growth actually got ahead of us for a while, so we didn't really want to get so busy so fast that product quality suffered, or we weren't able to manage."
Following Gov. Wolf's shutdown order, the Steinmetzes closed their doors and halted tea brewing productions at the end of March. During the weeks away, they worked to create an online ordering system to help ensure everyone's safety when reopening on April 6. Slowly but surely, Andora's welcomed back customers albeit without staff as "we didn't know what to expect" according to Andy.
"We referred to it as 'second winter' because the sales were that depressed. Slowly we started to pick up and brought staff back as needed, I believe the full existing staff returned by early June," Andy continued. "We are just now expanding our staff to expected summer levels. Sales volume is still down, but the numbers are still going up. Missing events is the real lasting drag on business."
Today, Andora's Bubble Tea Shop operates a bit differently than before. Of course, all seating remains outdoors, and the shop has had a mask policy since reopening, for both staff and customers. Plus, one-third of orders remain online. To meet these new changes, Andy and Rora implemented a grab-and-go fridge.
"If people place an order online they don't have to come to the counter, they just grab their order from the fridge, reducing customer staff interactions and keeping everyone well distance, this also avoids people standing in lines for pickups," Andy said. "We did do curbside for a while, but we did away with that as more customers chose to order in person, as it was just difficult to have staff running out to cars."
But with all these hurdles comes support from the community. As Erie draws together in support of local eateries, Andora's Bubble Tea Shop is no exception.
"People have been supportive, people wear their masks as asked and have been polite with each other and the staff," said Andy. "Our regulars have mainly returned and most of the sales slump can be attributed to the canceling of all the events downtown."
While the next few months remain uncertain, Andora's is rising to the occasion by brewing refreshingly summery events and flavors. Bubbleades, banana milk, and cold brew Vietnamese coffee are all hitting the menu to join summer flavors: Andora Palmer, Durian Milk Tea, and Blue Moon to name a few. The cafés snack and merch collection has also expanded to include unique items that customers love.
Despite the COVID-19 damper on business, Andora's Bubble Tea Shop isn't going anywhere. Thanks to community enthusiasm for these pastel blends, Andora's has made a name for itself in Erie. Looking ahead, Andy just hopes "that we can someday return to being a place people can hang out, and that we can continue to expand our offerings and get back on track with some of our big ideas."