FEATURE: Neko Cafe pushes through hardships

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By Chris Diosomito

Opening a boba shop is not as easy as one would think. At least that is what Fiona Lyu, owner of the newly established Neko Cafe located on Magnolia Ave. came to realize.

After eight years of trying, Neko Cafe is now open and making fresh drinks daily for everyone who walks in.

There are many drink and food options to choose from. The cafe is open everyday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is offering 20% off until June 8 to celebrate its grand opening.

Neko Cafe takes inspiration from Japan.

“Neko” means cat in Japanese and Lyu said her family is all cat lovers. The cat cafe spirit lives on through their decorative stickers on the stores walls and the logo found on the cups.

The owner immigrated to the United States in 2012 and worked at a boba shop in Northern California.

The experience made her want to open her own shop which led her to move to Southern California to pursue her dream.

In 2015 while enjoying Korean BBQ with a friend, Lyu saw that the unit across the way was available for rent and immediately submitted an application.

Lyu’s start-up story proves to be a rough one. She had to deal with two separate contractors, one of which took her money and never finished the project.

“I paid him around 100,000 and he disappeared. He left with about 30% of the work left,” Lyu said. “He didn’t answer my call.”

A few years later, the second contractor charged $44,000 to work on the unfinished project. 

“He promised me to open in two months because the first contractor finished most of the work,” she said. “The second still spent one year and a half to open.”

Lyu eventually took matters into her own hands.

“I had no money to hire the second one so I went to work,” she said. “I saved the money from my salary, even borrowed some money from my parents. I restarted this project.”

The surrounding stores are all very friendly towards Lyu and her family. She noted that the Pho Star Bowl next door and Star Crab are also Asian owned, which has brought comfort to her as a Chinese immigrant.

According to Lyu, the surrounding businesses looked out for her and did their best to help get her back on her feet. She shared that before the store was open, someone had broken the glass and the neighboring stores called to alert her about the incident.

“My neighbors are my customers too. I have a (regular) customer from the Star Crab,” she said. “He comes everyday to buy his coffee from our store. I really appreciate him.”

The owner shared she carries the same drive to accomplish her dream with the same passion of  when she first started. She works the register and makes drinks for customers herself but the shop is family-run. 

In spite of its rough start up, Neko Cafe has been steadily growing.

“There was one day where I sold just one drink. The total sales that day was just $4.57. And yesterday I sold around 400,” Lyu said. “100 times (better).”

She is working on getting the store set up for takeout apps and connecting with customers.

Lyu originally feared that the delay in opening would steer away potential customers. The shop’s sign has been up for years without it being open until recently. She worries that not everyone will understand all that she went through to get the shop to where it is now. 

All of the cafe’s teas are made fresh daily with real ingredients as opposed to syrups and artificial sweeteners. Going as far as mashing the Taro fruit by hand rather than using powder.

Lyu said that customers can really tell the difference as seen through the increasing positive Yelp and Google reviews. 

She reads every review and makes sure to personally thank the customers. 

“They encourage me. They give me the confidence to keep making the store better,” Lyu said.

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