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Bubble Tea Café Concept ‘Chatime’ to Double Canadian Store Count with Expansion: Interview

Chatime at King & Jarvis – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

The bubble tea concept has seen increasing popularity in Canada in recent years and Chatime is poised to take advantage of that burgeoning interest with a plan to double its footprint across the country in the coming years.

Thomas Wong, Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer for Chatime Canada, said the company’s mission is to bring the bubble tea experience to a broader Canadian audience.

In Canada, the first location opened 10 years ago in 2011 in downtown Toronto and from there the company started franchising in Ontario. Today, it has more than 70 stores in the market across Ontario and British Columbia.

“Chatime is an international brand but we found a massive stronghold and a big opportunity in Canada, especially in those markets but really around the country,” he said.

“We see Chatime as the leader in the bubble tea market. The bubble tea market has been historically an ethnic concept that has originated from Asia historically but it’s now becoming a worldwide phenomenon. What we’re finding is that in markets around the world there’s an amazing receptivity to the concept. The best way I can describe it for Canadians who haven’t had bubble tea before, but probably have heard of it, is when you think about the kind of culture associated with coffee that we’ve historically had in North America and Europe, it sort of transcends just the beverage . . . It’s really associated with strong positive emotions.

Image: Chatime Ajax

“In the coffee case, it’s very much a comfort and a routine and a stability. For millions of people around the world Chatime represents that injection of happiness in their day. It’s really bringing that joy of the beverage and that experience. A lot of people come to Chatime certainly because they’re craving something but they’re really looking for also all the positive emotions that are associated with grabbing a couple of bubble teas during the day with friends and family. For a lot of people it becomes an incredible part of their lifestyle. It’s just something they look forward to every day. It’s bringing that joy of bubble tea to a really broad Canadian audience and that’s where we’re finding tons of opportunity.”

Wong said the company feels it’s just on the cusp of a really big opportunity to expand across the country. When it first opened in 2011 in Toronto, initially the customer base was certainly people who knew the product such as people born in Asia or international students. But within weeks the demographic started to shift as more people became familiar with bubble tea.

“Very early on, we saw that this was a product that was going to easily transcend that ethnic niche. So just like sushi, and shawarma and ramen and all of these kinds of food concepts that have really successfully become part of mainstream consciousness for Canadians, we’re seeing that for Chatime,” he said.

“So what’s happening is every time we open up Chatime in a new market that you might not have historically thought of as a place where bubble tea would be successful a lot of our most successful locations have been those kinds of markets that maybe haven’t heard of bubble tea but the moment we get in there people start trying Chatime for the first time and what we bring to the market is a very strong focus on quality and consistency so we’re able to bring that experience to many, many different markets.”

Wong said there is room to grow within the major urban markets such as Vancouver and Toronto but there is also massive opportunity in much smaller cities and towns.

Image: Chatime

“I think we’re easily going to double that at another 70 stores within the next, we’ll call it, five years conservatively. There’s just so many markets out there that are very thirsty for our products,” he said.

Chatime Canada is part of the Kevito Group Canada which also has brands Bake Code, Chatime Atealier, and Chatime Innovation Bar.

“We specialize in launching and growing just innovative food and beverage concepts from around the world,” said Wong. “We’ve been successful in bringing them to the Canadian market, really adapting them to the Canadian consumer tastes.

“There’s just so many amazing food and beverage concepts going on out there around the world that we think we can bring to the Canadian market and adapt to this market.”

The global Chatime brand is based in Taiwan. The brand exists in more than 30 countries with more than 1,000 locations.

“Canada has emerged as one of the top markets for Chatime internationally. It speaks to the openness of Canadians to embrace different food concepts. Canadians across the country seem really welcoming to this kind of product category,” added Wong.

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