An Interview With Alex -Deco Drinks Tulsa
Deco Drinks across from LaFortune Park is something of a local institution. No matter what beverage you order, consider it heaven in a cup. You can find coffee, Matcha, Boba Tea, Chai, and loose leaf teas. There is also Kombucha on tap. I am absolutely obsessed with the beet lattes and the turmeric lattes because they have zero caffeine so they make the perfect mid-day pick me up! I have had to stop drinking so much caffeine after a bit of a health scare that you read about here.
You can also find the best avocado toast in Tulsa!
But rather than me go on and on about this gem, let’s just let Alex tell his story in this great Q & A. I know you will love his story as much as I do. He has a lot to share with us and I am so stoked to see another entrepreneur paving his way. It’s a huge risk leaving the corporate world and opening up a coffee/tea shop so let’s show him some support! In honor of Go French Yourself turning 3 on February 26th we have teamed up too so go enjoy a caffeine free LAVENDER LATTE while supplies last. Just mention Go French Yourself for 10% off. We tested them yesterday and oh em geee…..talk about sipping a little bit of France in a mug. Plus they are so pretty and perfect for your Insta feeds. You can also get a limited time Lavender Boba Tea!
INTERVIEW WITH ALEX
-How did you get involved in this business? Why did you bring Deco Drinks into the world ?
Since the time I studied in China I’ve really been into tea and also with the idea of bringing a concept that has been popular in China such as Boba Milk Tea and mixing it up with American coffee culture. Building on that concept, DecoDrinks is my way of bringing global drink trends into a modern coffee shop atmosphere.
-Tell us more about your personal background. Where did you come from and how did you end up where you are?
Growing up in Tulsa I credit a really diverse set of activities and settings that helped open the mind to a different views. I went through both private and public schools, plus everything from Boy Scouts, Martial Arts, and Hockey pre-college.
My restaurant experience really only took place during college where I worked at Cafe 501 in Edmond, OK and La Baguette in OKC. While attending UCO for my undergrad I settled on an International Business degree and at the time China was definitely a hot business topic. Oddly enough, I had a Japanese roommate for a while and an American friend of his recruited me to apply for an Oklahoma City U. MBA program entirely in Tianjin, China where they had a joint venture with another Chinese university. So it was in China that I was exposed to tea culture in a major way. I recognized they’re were trends in China and Asia that aren’t prevalent in the U.S. and vice versa. I always held on to the idea of bringing a trend or concept from China back to the States.
Most of my adult working life has been spent in Supply Chain and Technology related roles, I’ve lived in Chicago and Boston before returning to Tulsa, where I worked for a local energy manufacturing company up until last summer. A few years back I saw a “Craft Boba Tea” scene developing in San Francisco which really brought back my desire to be close to tea and coffee, I wanted to work with it everyday.
-Where does the name Deco Drinks come from?
I wanted to pull some design and local aesthetic elements into the concept and the Art Deco movement was important to Tulsa’s development. Plus, I think there are some similarities between the movement such as bring something new, modern and different and what I’m trying to achieve with my space. The name also represent a bigger idea than just being coffee or tea, and I hope allows me to experiment with the concept a bit more.
-Describe your venue in 3 words?
Tasty Global Deco
-What distinguishes you from other businesses in your category? How would you say Deco Drinks is different from other cafes?
While I have a strong coffee setup I’m also very tea focused plus have an eye toward doing popular international drinks such as Horchata and Boba Tea.
-What do you like best about leaving the corporate world and doing this instead?
I think the sense of ownership and accomplishment is extremely rewarding. It certainly comes with a whole host of new challenges but if you have the right mind set you’ll be ready to tackle them.
-What is your business’ biggest challenge thus far?
At the moment it might be a psychological challenge, I have to remember to be focused on the product and customer experience and everything else should work itself out. I think on the customer side their might be something there too from a psychological standpoint. It’s like who wants to be that first person to dance but then when you see a couple people dancing it makes it easier to join in.
-Something people might be surprised to learn about you or your business?!
I’d think that I come at this from a total startup perspective and that my experience in China actually really influences this endeavor.
-What’s your most popular drink?
Oat milk Latte both espresso and matcha style has proved to be popular. The Camo Latte people are really digging too, which mixes espresso and matcha.
-What’s your most popular food item?
Avocado and Feta for sure. I’m also experimenting with a couple more toast options as well.
-Boba Tea? Tell us everything!
Yea so this was kinda origin of my concept, wanting to do a craft style Boba Tea. So Boba Milk Tea originated in Taiwan, based on a soft chewy tapioca ball, mixed with milk and strong tea. It’s meant to be a fun sweet refreshing drink. Unfortunately, many of local Boba Tea or Bubble Tea places use a lot of artificial powders to achieve flavor. These are loaded with unnatural ingredients and sugars. I’m uncertain of the quality of tea they use or milk. I use only premium loose leaf teas, often organic when possible. I only sweeten with simple syrup made in house, either Turbinado or organic cane. I use fresh Braum’s milk in house as well.
-We talked a little bit about language a few weeks ago and you had some great ideas for the café ?! Care to share ?!
Yea! So I have a pretty good grasp on Mandarin and I’ve also been studying language since High School. First it was German, then Spanish in College and then Mandarin when living in China. I really believe studying language is not only great for our brains but also important way to understand culture and different world views.
So an idea I’d like to eventually get to is create a DecoDrinks Cafe language worksheet. Maybe something fun for aspiring language learners to come into the cafe and do. It could be in several different languages and focus on the vocabulary and grammar of a cafe, the drinks, the ordering, etc. Could be very practical and useful should you find yourself needing to eat or drink in a foreign country!
-Where do you see Deco Drinks in 2 years? 5 years? What’s the next step?
Well it would really just be a dream come true to have a sustainable successful shop. I purposefully built the space to be on the smaller side and efficient as to not risk too much. If things workout maybe there's an opportunity to partner and build a shop #2. I’d also rather build #2 in a different market, not Tulsa. Say like around Denver/Fort. Collins, Miami, Texas, strategy would be to go somewhere population density is increasing.
-Aside from running your business, what are some personal hobbies or local activities that you enjoy?
I enjoy spending time with the family and adventuring with them. Definitely working out and exercising is in the mix. I’ve been involved off and on with Filipino and Indonesian Martial Arts, and of course trying to keep my Mandarin up-to-date.
-What advice would you give to someone who is dreaming of opening their own small business?
This can be tricky because everyone has such a different circumstance. If funding and resources are a constraint try to work or intern in the industry you want to be involved. If those things happen to be separate, day job from dream job, really just come up with a plan on how to move over into starting the small business. Some ideas can snowball and become self sustaining. Look into incubators, find mentors, and study the market closely of course. Also think ahead, if you want to be similar to an existing business, think about how they might evolve or disrupt themselves so maybe you can move first in that direction first.
-In conclusion, tell people how to find Deco Drinks what your hours are, and how to find more information.
We are located at 51st and Yale just east of Yale facing La Fortune Park. Current hours are 6:30am to 6pm M-F and 8am-3pm Saturday/Sunday. Check me out on Instagram or Facebook @DecoDrinks