San Gabriel Valley

From Film to Food: YouTube Star Tells Cultural Story With Boba Café

Popular Asian American YouTube personality Phil Wang is known for short films and online videos he's created with Wong Fu Productions, but he's found a new medium to tell stories: a boba café in the San Gabriel Valley.

The Bopomofo Café has only been open for about two months, but it's generating a lot of buzz.

In the early years of Wong Fu, Phil Wang would choose San Gabriel Valley boba shops as an office to feel creative and empowered, and also find a unique sense of community. So, it only made sense for him and his friend, Eric Wang, to open a place of their own for others to feel that same connection in the very community where he got his start.

"A boba spot wouldn't be a boba spot without popcorn chicken," Phil Wang says. "The way we do it though its all white meat. It's served with fried Thai basil in there."

He continues, "Popcorn chicken is commonly served with Thai basil, so we decided to make it into a sauce -- a Thai basil aoli. And you can't find it anywhere else and its amazing."

The food at Bopomofo is the perfect example of "A.B.C." food, the co-owner says.

"A.B.C. stands for American born Chinese," Phil Wang says. "I wish we could call it that, but so many businesses are called A.B.C. Let's call it Bopomofo Café, an omage to Chinese upbringing, our Asian American upbringing, as well."

The food is not your typical affair here, but it has familiarly American and, even more so, Asian American influences.

"Our parents made mapo tofu at home, but we had tater tots at the school cafeteria, so we wanted to bring it all together," Eric Wang, co-owner, says as he shows off a delicious plate of tater tots done Bopomofo Café style.

Eric and Phil Wang hope that by choosing the San Gabriel Valley, they'll attract new business and young entrepreneurs to the area.

Phil Wang says, "I get the most joy when people see me behind the counter and they say 'What are you doing here?' And their minds are blown. They think I'm just working the cashier as a second job because YouTube isn't cutting it. So, I love it when they find out on their own."

The online following has helped play a part in boosting business so far, but the owners knew they had to make a high quality product to keep patrons coming back for more. 

"Our flavor speaks for itself," Eric Wang says. "It's really fresh, all natural."

The guys at Bopomofo say they hope their café can continue to grow into a place people can come and celebrate culture through an edible product, while the physical establishment connects heritage and community.

"Food and a physical venue is a place you can pass these traditions, these flavors on," Phil Wang says. 

He adds, "Food is a part of your identity."

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