A local franchisee has opened the first Chicago location of Happy Lemon, a Taiwan-based boba chain known for specializing in Asian cheese teas — sweet-and-savory cold tea drinks topped with salted milk and cream cheese foam — and has big plans for the surrounding suburbs.
Trinh Le, a West Coast transplant who already owns a Happy Lemon location in Evanston, opened the new cafe in March at 818 W. Fullerton Avenue near DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus. The simple counter-service spot with an all-student staff seats 20 in a space decorated with white subway tile and bright yellow walls. Founded in 2006, Happy Lemon has more than 1,500 company-owned stores and franchises across Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America.
Though many Chicagoans are by now familiar with boba, sold in cafes across town, Le’s expansive menu will expand the city’s options. It’s the same menu as the Evanston location, where last year she first introduced the brand to Illinois, and includes purple taro milk tea with boba, strawberry black tea with salted cheese, smoothies, slushies, and playful bubble waffles (original and chocolate). “I was raised in California so I was surrounded by bubble tea all the time,” she says. “When I first relocated to Chicago, I saw a very diverse food scene but there wasn’t much variety in terms of boba tea.”
A former banker, Le initially planned to treat Happy Lemon as a hobby but soon realized she wanted to pursue hospitality full time. She aims to open five Chicago-area locations by the end of 2022, and is already scouting locations in Glenview and Schaumburg in the hope of securing leases in the next few months. She’s also poised to soon break ground on a third location that will share a space with her other franchise project — Taiwanese hot pot chain Tasty Pot — in suburban Naperville.
“[The shared location] will help us strike a balance,” Le says. “Hot pot is good for colder weather and Happy Lemon is busier in the summer, so this way we can attract customers year-round.”
Happy Lemon Lincoln Park, 818 W. Fullerton Avenue, Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.