by Dorothy Puch Lillig
You might say Samantha Le jumped into purchasing Tapioca Place in the Spring Branch District as quickly as, let’s say, one might order a bubble tea.
She was meeting a friend at the shop on Hammerly Boulevard and heard it was for sale, got a price and thought, “Why not?”
That was in 2015.
Since then, Samantha and her husband, Chi Le, have added a second location, SmooTea Cafe on Bellaire Boulevard near West University, which they opened last year while still welcoming patrons at the Spring Branch shop. They retained the original name, Tapioca Place, in Spring Branch.
The specialties at Tapioca Place and at SmooTea include bubble tea and the Vietnamese sandwich, known as “bánh mì” — a freshly toasted French baguette filled with grilled pork, chicken, teriyaki beef or tofu.
To go with your sandwich, choose green, black, Thai or classic milk tea. Vietnamese coffee is also available. Freshly made smoothies (with milk) or slushies (with water) are also on the menu.
Tapioca Place first opened in Spring Branch in 2012, Le said. Located across from Spring Woods High School, the shop is popular among students.
“We are also close to Beltway 8, so there are lots of employees from the companies around and, of course, we love having the neighbors from around the area,” said Le, who graduated from University of Houston Bauer College of Business with a BBA in management and also received a master’s in management from Texas Women’s University. She worked in human resources for 10 years and has a background in retail and banking.
Le also has a big heart. She was meeting with her friend in Spring Branch to discuss helping a charity when she first heard Tapioca Place was for sale. At her shop on Bellaire Boulevard, Le has been opening the doors on Sundays and allowing the students from another nonprofit, Houston’s Down Syndrome Academy, run the shop for job training and as a fundraiser for a new campus for the school serving adults with Down syndrome.
Le first met the students from the Down Syndrome Academy when she donated drinks and food for the organization’s annual fashion show, held in October at Audi Central.
“I was inspired by a coffee shop called Bitty & Beau,” Le said. “It is a coffee shop in the Northeast that was opened by parents of twins with Down syndrome. The coffee shop is operated by employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I thought to myself, ‘I would love my shop to be like that one day.’”
Eventually, Le said, she would love to hire some of the students from the Down Syndrome Academy to work at Tapioca Place. The Down Syndrome Academy is located at 5200 Mitchelldale, just outside the Spring Branch District, so it would be an easy commute for the students to and from school.
Le said she is inspired by the students and hopes to grow the partnership.
“I believe everyone can do anything even if they may not have all the skills or abilities. I did not have the experience or background to run a cafe but I did it, so I want to share that opportunity with a group of adults that might not always have been given that opportunity to show their skills,” Le said. “If I can grow my business, this partnership will become a way I can hire adults with Down syndrome and give them that opportunity.”
10226 Hammerly Blvd., Houston, 77043