MK Boba: A Tea Company Built With Love

By Diego De Jesus
When they started dating, Max Gomez and his fiancé Kim Huynh bonded over boba teas whenever they visited Tampa or Orlando. It was a 45 minute to an hour trek. Gomez wanted to change that by bringing the booming boba tea scene to Lakeland. 

In 2019, Gomez was ready to try something new and discover a new passion. Huynh managed her parents’ business and used her expertise to help Gomez turn his dreams into something he could make tangible.

“I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” the 27-year-old Gomez says. “It was just like, ok, let me get in, get started and see what’s going on, and it was just trial and error. Once I felt comfortable, after working on the recipes, I then started taking the cos starters courses at Catapult.” 

Gomez said without Catapult he wouldn’t have the connections and encouragement to improve his business and propel him to apply to become a vendor at the Downtown Farmers Curb Market. Within a year of opening his business, Gomez applied for and was awarded one of Catapult’s $10,000 micro-grants, opening many doors for his business. 

Gomez started his alchemy at home, but it wasn’t until Catapult invited Gomez into their commissary kitchen that he would perfect his west-coast-inspired tea recipes. Five months into 2020, he thought of a name for his business, MK Boba Tea, M standing for Max and K for Kim as an homage to how it all started. Max proposed to Kim in her home country of Vietnam.

“My fiancé and I have been together for nine years, and she’s a huge inspiration to me, and I just felt like it was something that I wanted to put into the business as well,” Gomez says. 

MK Boba debuted at the Market with a three-drink menu in the summer of 2020, originally under a tent across from Palace Pizza. After a year in business, they purchased their signature concession trailer from Facebook Marketplace and moved to a foot traffic-heavy locale across from Jimmy John’s. 

Its menu began with three drinks: Thai tea, milk tea and Horchata. Building off of those drinks and experimenting more on what worked for the tea shop, the menu now boasts close to 20 drinks including black teas, fruit teas, matcha boba, a variety of boba lattes and even coffee options for early birds. 

Gomez credits his success with opting away from manufactured products that only mimic the flavor he wants to give his patrons. He noticed that many of his customers were into alternative milk such as almond, coconut, and oat, and he leaned into that fact. His drink sales skyrocketed, tapping into that demand and consistently offering a variety of fresh ingredients. 

“We don’t use any powders,” Gomez says. “That was something we were very strict on when starting the business. A lot of boba shops use powdered milks.” 

When he was assembling his recipes and finding the freshest products, he looked West for inspiration from other successful boba businesses, and he emulates many of the flavors of Korean and Japanese cafes. 

“A lot of the cafes on the West side have come up with a lot of unique drinks, like with crème brûlée added to the drinks,” Gomez says. “And I noticed that a lot of the time over here in Florida and others on the East side, you don’t really see much of that.”

Like any growing business, Gomez is looking toward new horizons and aspires to open a brick-and-mortar in South Lakeland in a year or so, with hopes of still operating the concession trailer at the Market. In the meantime, Gomez and Huyhn are looking forward to planning for their wedding, which is set for spring 2025.