Food

Fat Straws owners talk immigration, starting from nothing, and giving back to community

Fat Straws owners Jennifer and Terry Pham celebrating the opening of their Richardson location | Photo credit: Kathy Tran

Food trends come and go, but bubble tea will always be something enjoyable and refreshing to people from all walks of life. Fat Straws, one of north Texas’ most popular bubble tea shops, opened its fourth location in Richardson this past fall. Husband and wife duo Terry and Jennifer Pham first opened Fat Straws in Plano in 2002, a time when bubble tea wasn’t really popular in the U.S. Now, with four locations to their credit, the Phams are committed to helping give back to their community in the form of service and charity.

Jennifer was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10. Terry was born in the U.S., but is the son of immigrant parents. Jennifer grew up in Los Angeles, however, she feels that as the child of immigrants, as well as being an immigrant herself, she had a lot more responsibilities than her peers. 

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“One of the biggest challenges we faced was the language barrier,” Jennifer says. “We didn’t speak the language. My parents didn’t speak the language. We went through the whole ESL program and education system, which is great. But growing up with parents who don’t speak English means you kind of have to grow up faster. You’re taking care of reading their mail, translating it to them and helping them with everyday tasks.”

Terry’s father was an air force pilot. Terry was born in Arkansas and lived in a refugee camp. With his pilot experience, Terry’s father was able to work gigs flying cargo. One day, when his father was flying, the co-pilot had miscalculated the weight of the baggage on the plane, which affected the elevation of the plane. Everyone on the plane, including Terry’s father, was killed. Terry’s mother was left to raise him and his three siblings alone.

“I think, for her, being a single mom and growing up and just working in that space was really challenging,” Terry says.

Terry and his family were later brought to Dallas by way of the kindness of strangers.

“There was a local church here,” Terry recalls. “Northpark Presbyterian Church, which is still around. They sponsored us. They brought us here and helped my mom find an apartment, showed her how to ride the bus, get a driver’s license and do all that type of stuff. So ultimately, that’s how we ended up settling here.”

Terry spent much of his youth helping his mother manage a 7-11 store to support his family. As an adult, he temporarily worked in information technology. He later met Jennifer, who helped him conceive the idea of Fat Straws.

“I had this bright idea about six months after we got married,” Terry recalls. “I was tired of the corporate grind and thought we should go and try and something entrepreneurial. Really, the motivation was just wanting to create something and also have some autonomy. I knew that once we got older, and had kids and had a mortgage,  I’d be more gun shy and I wouldn’t want to take risks.”

Fat Straws was one of the first shops to bring bubble tea to north Texas | Photo credit: Kathy Tran

At the time, Terry was 26, and he and Jennifer were beginning to build their lives. They weren’t sure if this venture would prove fruitful, however, they knew they would regret it if they hadn’t at least tried.

“At the time, all we had to our name was a 1999 Nissan Maxima,” Terry recalls. “We lived in an apartment of about a mile from where our first location was. So I said, ‘Hey, I have this idea. You know, bubble tea is kind of a known thing in the Asian community, but it’s not really something that’s big here.’ We said ‘let’s do it.’ I had never owned a business, I had never signed a lease. I had retail experience working in 7-11 for most of my life and working in fine dining, but really, it was kind of like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down.”

Now, Fat Straws has become a bubble tea staple in north Texas. They are one of the most popular bubble tea and smoothie shops in the area, with a dedicated customer base. Their mochi donuts, which are sold exclusively at their Richardson location, have become so popular that some people will drive all the way from Oklahoma to buy some, and then drive back.

Fat Straws’ mochi donuts, which are sold exclusively at their Richardson location, have become so popular that people will drive hours to get them | Photo credit: Kathy Tran

Because of the charity and grace that were shown to Terry and Jennifer from a young age, the husband and wife duo are inspired to give back to the community. Terry is the chairman of the board for WayForward, a faith-based non-profit empowering individual through outdoor adventures. Jennifer is involved with her children’s school’s Parent Teacher Association, as well as Prairie Creek Garden Club. She is also involved in Young Men’s Service League, a mother-son organization committed to community service.

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Both Jennifer and Terry are committed to implementing principles of service and charity within the workplace.

“I think we really put a lot of effort into our hospitality and how we engage with our customers and how we engage with our team,” Terry says. “It’s not just about clocking in and out or collecting a paycheck, but really, it’s about how we impact each other.”

Fat Straws

1251 W. Campbell Rd., Richardson

Hours:

 

  • Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

More: 469.726.2034 | fatstraws.co

Alex Gonzalez
Alex Gonzalez is a writer at Local Profile. He is a lover of food, music, sports, art, and world cultures. Alex was born and raised in Plano and graduated from University of North Texas in 2017. When he is not writing, Alex enjoys hiking, attempting to cook, going out to happy hours, and playing board games with friends.

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