Senior Spotlight: Kellie Tran Turned Tea Love Into A Boba Business

Gonzaga senior, Kellie Tran, owner of Uoni Bubble Tea & Coffee.
In just seven months, Kellie Tran went from studying to becoming a business owner, turning her dream of having a quality boba shop near campus into a reality.
January 29, 2024
Sydney Fluker (β€˜24)

This story is part of our Senior Stories series, in which we highlight GU students throughout the year.

Name: Kellie Tran
Studies: Philosophy and Economics
Hometown: Spokane, Washington

In a whirlwind seven months, Kellie Tran (‘24) turned an abandoned VR arcade into a thriving boba shop just outside of Gonzaga’s campus.

“I don’t even know how we got here,” Tran says with a laugh. “Basically, I was just studying and then one day I wasn’t anymore.”

Uoni Bubble Tea & Coffee opened its doors in June and has been a popular choice for both GU students and locals. 

The name is a reference to its Korean honorific, "μ–Έλ‹ˆ," pronounced “unni,” which translates to “older sister.”

“I thought it was super fitting because ‘uoni’ in Korean means ‘older sister’ and I kind of consider myself to be an older sister in the general sense,” Tran says. “I wasn’t sold on it at first, but my boyfriend actually convinced me because he’s the one that came up with the logo, and it was just super cute.”

The idea came about in her first years at GU, as she longed for a quality boba shop closer to GU than Spokane Valley. So when Tran saw the abandoned space next to Ultimate Bagel in November 2021, she approached her parents with the idea to open the boba shop she always wanted.

Tran spent the spring of 2022 studying abroad at the University of Oxford in England, but kept the possibility of becoming a business owner in the back of her mind while abroad.

She buckled down on opening her shop last spring, taking the semester off from studies and delaying graduation to take on the role of contractor, graphic designer, interior decorator and whatever else she needed to be.

Her parents, though supporting her where they could, could not help Tran through the legal jargon of building permits, so she decided to approach the opening process as if it was a school project.

“I was basically treating it like submitting assignments to people on time,” Tran says. “It turned into this elaborate business school project, so I just researched until I could submit the documents for a building permit.”

In order to save money on a contractor, Tran, putting her lack of previous architectural experience aside, successfully created the three blueprints required to submit to the city by working with her plumber and electrician.

What she was most excited to do, though, was design the menu.

“I wanted fun boba,” Tran says. “That was my whole thing — I just like fun things. Boba is exciting, but sometimes it’s not exciting enough for me personally, so I knew I didn’t want to just have regular boba.”

Image of purple and yellow Uoni Bubble tea.
Uoni's colorful bubble tea

Her love of all things fun is reflected in the menu, which offers specialized drinks that go beyond the average milk tea boba they offer. Creations include drinks like Purple Moon, a lychee blue tea lemonade, and Rose Bellini, a peach rose sparkling lemonade with peach and strawberry boba. Uoni also offers taiyaki as a food option, a Japanese waffle-like fish-shaped pastry with filling.

“It’s a visual experience,” Tran says. “I like that it’s fun, it’s creative. It represents what I wanted it to be, for it to be an experience.”

Now back at school full-time, Tran is still finding the right balance between work, school and life. She focuses on giving herself grace and accepting failure when it happens to handle all that life as a business owner and student throws at her.

“Everybody moves at their own pace, and anything can change in an instant,” Tran says. “I just try to take it slow and make sure I’m OK mentally. Sometimes if it’s overwhelming or you find yourself unable to meet your own expectations, just lower them — it’s OK to.”

Tran is planning on graduating this spring with degrees in philosophy and economics, but will extend her timing if needed to better fit her career. She explored political science, English and journalism before settling on philosophy and economics, and previously planned to be a lawyer, even studying for the LSAT exam last summer.

“I’ve never really had a plan for what I wanted to do with my life,” Tran says. “I did have a fake plan [to be a lawyer], but deep down I knew I wouldn’t want to do that. The only thing I wanted to do was to be able to have flexibility in life.”

Though she plans to graduate come spring, Tran plans on being involved with Uoni for as long as she can.

“Although there’s things we’re learning every day and there’s always things I can do better, it’s been a great experience,” Tran says. “I think I’ve exceeded my own expectations, which is really nice to say when some days I’m just so overwhelmed I can’t see the progress that I have made.”

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