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est. 1930

The Wildcat

est. 1930

The Wildcat

est. 1930

The Wildcat

Bala Brews Boba

Senior Jacob Bala crafts original drinks at family-run cafe, a business launched from a ‘light switch’ moment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lauren Ahn
Jacob Bala, senior, measures out taro powder to make a taro tea base. Bala has worked at Boba Flip, his family’s store, since its opening in March 2023.

A typical Saturday morning for Jacob Bala, senior, involves some atypical ingredients: taro powder, tapioca pearls, and ube, all staples of the popular boba drink.

Bala has been crafting and serving tapioca pearl drinks at his family-owned Boba Flip since its opening at 658 S. Brea Blvd. in March. But the senior, as co-manager and son of its owners, has been with the store long before its doors opened. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the closing of restaurants and cafes, the Bala family purchased do-it-yourself boba kits so they could enjoy their favorite beverage at home. But when Katrina Bala, Jacob’s mother, made the boba, “it tasted store bought.” Bala called this the family’s “light switch” moment.

Inspired, Katrina embarked on a journey to create a new boba brand: Boba Flip. (The “flip” in the store’s name and logo, refers to the flipping of the sealed cup to circulate the tapioca pearls throughout the drink.)

Working an office job at the time, developing the brand and business provided an outlet and distraction from the stresses she faced in the corporate world.

“It wasn’t very easy, because it was our first business and we had no background in restaurants,” Katrina said. “Getting the health permit, a permit to construct, and getting this space – it was very challenging.”

While Katrina spearheaded Boba Flip’s development as a business, Jacob was relied on for another important role: taste-tester. “It was just trial and error, because some things didn’t go as well with flavors until we found the right one,” Jacob said. 

Jacob is like my right hand person [and] can run the store by himself on a daily basis. He knows how to do the front and back [and] is like the second in command.

— Katrina Bala

With her son’s help, Katrina curated a menu which incorporates traditional boba flavors – like black milk tea, matcha, and brown sugar boba – as well as flavors from the family’s Filipino roots, like coconut, pandan (a fragrant, tropical plant), and Jacob’s favorite, ube. (“I grew up with [ube],” Jacob said.)

As a co-manager, Jacob runs back-of-house operations, takes customer orders, and trains new employees.

“Jacob is like my right hand person [and] can run the store by himself on a daily basis. He knows how to do the front and back [and] is like the second in command,” Katrina said.

Despite the challenges that come with launching and operating a new business, there are many highlights to the job, according to Jacob. Jacob’s favorite part of his shifts is meeting new people at the register and getting to know loyal customers over time. “We’re still a family business, and we’re still new, but having [customers] try us out and seeing them come back [is rewarding]” Jacob said.

Over time, Jacob has learned to balance his school work and working at the family’s store. As co-manager, Jacob helps shutter the shop, which closes at 9 p.m., and often stays until 9:30. “When I’m working and the store is dead, I just try to cram in some homework so I don’t have to stay up late.” Still, even as a working student striving to “flip” the boba industry with his family’s business, Jacob finds time to reset – by cleaning his room, going to the gym, or playing basketball.

Workdays, though, involve much sweeter and colorful things.

Boba Flip is open seven days a week, from 12 to 9 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Lauren Ahn
Lauren Ahn, Staff Writer
Lauren Ahn, junior, is excited to start to start her first year on The Wildcat as a staff writer. In her free time, she enjoys going out with friends, watching Netflix, and sleeping. Lauren also loves matcha and is always on the lookout for good cafes. Although joining mid-school year, Lauren is looking forward to spending the rest of the year on the team!
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  • Mr. BalaOct 15, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    I would like to say a few things about Jacob my eldest son. Ever since he was a young child he’s always been a hard worker, very determined to succeeded. Not just in academics or sports but I’m general. I am truly proud of what he is becoming. His younger brother definitely loves up to him. His baby sister as well. There is nothing else I can say to Jacob. Just keep striving and work hard with the help of our lord Jesus Christ he will always succeed. Also never give up on anything you can’t handle. No matter what mom and dad will always be proud of you. Love you son.

    From dad.

  • Lola WilOct 15, 2023 at 8:17 pm

    Wow, you’ve reached great heights, boba flip family. Commendable performance & achievements. Keep up the good work. May God bless you more. ❤️