By Christina Autry
As the Spring Branch District maintains its reputation as a highly desirable location for business, Nobibi on Blalock has become the first Nobibi to open in Texas, and the second in the United States. Cones of soft serve and sweet, refreshing drinks have found a home here thanks to husband and wife duo Cici Chen and Lee Wang. “Summer is long here,” says Lee. And for an ice cream shop, that can be a very good thing.
Lee and Cici have become well-acquainted with Texas summers after moving from China to study at Baylor almost ten years ago. After meeting at school, and both earning master’s degrees, the couple became aware of the Nobibi chain, which was quickly expanding in China. “My wife was browsing social media, and she saw her friends’ pictures in China of Nobibi’s stores with super cute interiors. A lot of people were taking pictures there,” remembers Lee. “She said that we never see this in the states. We discussed the idea, and felt like we could bring this to the US.”
Lee and Cici selected the Blalock & I-10 location because of its perfect combination of affordability, location, safety, and supportive business practices in the area. Leading up to their opening on August 2nd, the couple decorated and installed the iconic, whimsical decorations in the store themselves. “We prepared everything. I installed the neon lights on my own. I got a few scratches, but it’s all been worth it,” Lee laughs. “It’s great to see people coming in and taking pictures with what we’ve designed.”
Immediately upon walking through the door at Nobibi, you’re greeted with a bold, modern, pink color. The unicorn statue to your right beckons you to visually explore this ice cream “Dream Room,” as the neon sign labels the space. Each wall creates a new photo opportunity, with unique accessories, shades of pink, and a general sense of “cute” that matches the sweet treats so well. Free Wi-Fi and plenty of seating in the small shop makes this a pleasant place for studying or working on weekdays.
Ordering means choosing soft serve flavors like sea salt, black coconut, pure milk, matcha, or new weekly flavors. Going for a stylish dessert might land you with a “dream cloud;” soft serve surrounded by cotton candy and dotted with tangy dried strawberries. But wait, you’re not done yet. Eating gold for dessert is a real option here, so if money is no object, or you’re “doing it for the ‘gram,” throw some edible gold foil onto your soft serve. If you can manage to squeeze some toasted marshmallow onto your creation, you won’t regret it.
The unique sea salt soft serve is only slightly salty, which provides a delectable contrast to the creamy, sweet vanilla flavor. Adding fresh boba to soft serve in the form of the “Brown Sugar Boba” is a must-try item for enjoying a perfect-sized soft serve and Nobibi’s fantastic boba.
“The sparking drinks are one of the key elements of Nobibi,” says Lee. Of their most popular products stands the Sakura Blossom, a sparkling drink with pink Sakura petals dispersed inside, creating an aesthetic as beautiful as the taste. “Sakura” is another name for the Cherry blossom that is so wildly popular in Japan, and frankly, around the world.
Nobibi’s “August Oolong Matcha,” another highly popular item, uses ceremonial grade matcha imported from the best place on earth for matcha: Japan. The matcha is blended by hand upon order, to ensure the freshness and quality of each tri-colored drink. Lee recommends tasting each layer before stirring and combining the tea, cream, and matcha.
Before it reached us in Houston, Nobibi originated in 2016 in Hangzhou, a city referred to in China as a “Historical and Cultural City.” Hangzhou is famous for World Heritage sites, silk, tea, and in recent times, cutting edge technological innovations. Out of this attitude of innovation, Nobibi was born, and has spread to over 400 locations in China, and has now reached Australia, New Zealand, and Los Angeles. “There is someone hoping to open a Nobibi in Sugarland next, and we’ll help them get started,” says Lee.
“There was a huge wave in milk tea in China in the past few years,” says Lee. “The next wave is soft serve, and Nobibi was one of the first to get into the market.” As the word “Nobibi” translates to, in essence, “do more, talk less,” this phrase has become an inspirational reminder to Lee and Cici. “We always want to keep doing more to serve our customers,” says Lee.
Already Nobibi has been featured on an ABC News “Localish” episode, bringing interested Houstonians flooding through their doors. As customers show off their Instagramable desserts in front of the neon “Keep Smiling” sign, Cici and Lee have every reason to smile as they build their business in Spring Branch.
1035 Blalock Rd, Houston, TX 77055