When Rob Sparkman became a U.S. citizen nearly two decades ago, he was told he shouldn’t leave his native culture behind. Sparkman, who worked as an IT professional before pursuing a career as a builder in 2014, decided to fully embrace his heritage by opening an innovative business in Bowling Green.
“I won’t forget my culture,” Sparkman told the Daily News. “What I can do is bring my culture into United States, kinda like a melting pot, so everybody can experience what Asian food, street food and everything looks like.”
Sparkman’s business, then called simply the Boba Lounge, held its original grand opening at 312 Old Morgantown Road on Aug. 26, 2017. The establishment offered locals the chance to try boba – a Taiwanese drink containing some combination of tea, milk, flavoring and toppings.
The small business grew in popularity, and Sparkman decided to pursue moving to a larger location about a year ago. Since the old location closed May 4, locals have waited patiently for their fix of the store’s specialty drinks.
Their wait ended Tuesday as the newly christened Boba Lounge & Cafe hosted its second grand opening event in almost as many years.
“It’s taken off,” Sparkman said. “We needed to expand it over here so we can serve even better – more selection, bigger place and provide some Asian food.”
Festivities at the new space at 1542 U.S. 31-W By-Pass began at 11 a.m. Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Steve Davis and Sparkman both spoke in the lounge area before the proceedings moved outside so the duo could cut a ceremonial ribbon at the establishment.
A series of explosions filled the air after a pair of oversized scissors sliced through the blue tape, as Sparkman lit traditional firecrackers that popped and snapped in the wind for a couple of minutes. After the last of the fireworks expired, the small crowd applauded.
Sparkman then ushered all the people inside so they could order their favorite drinks and enjoy a free sampling of his restaurant’s new appetizers. Business officially began at noon, and doors remained open until 11 p.m.
The larger venue, which is still partially under construction, will allow the business to begin serving food items beyond just snacks or desserts.
Sparkman said adding more substantial food options – including banh mi, pho and rice plates – preceded his decision to modify the spot’s name slightly.
“The lounge is more like you lounge and you just enjoy your drink, but cafe is where you can sit down with a nice dinner and lunch,” Sparkman said about making “& Cafe” an addendum to his shop’s original name.
The expanded menu also includes Vietnamese hot pot, which Sparkman compared to fondue at the Melting Pot. “You sit down and cook your own food on the table with your family, which is really awesome,” Sparkman said.
Vietnamese iced coffee, shaken iced teas, milk teas and the rest of the preexisting menu items are still available, but a new-and-improved “boba bar” area will also serve imported beer, domestic beer and specialty alcoholic boba drinks in addition to the standard fare patrons have grown accustomed to.
“We’re super excited because we provided something special for here in Bowling Green,” Sparkman said. “I believe we’re the first one within an 80-mile radius here to have something similar to hot pot, and we’re probably the first boba infused with alcohol.”
Sparkman said the Boba Lounge & Cafe experienced several construction delays, which also stalled training and setup. Technical issues threatened to postpone the opening until August, but the space’s landlord offered his assistance to make sure the building could open sooner.
“With my builder background, you can see that I can make the place look a whole lot better, look nicer, all that stuff,” Sparkman said. “But we’ve been working with the landlord and by God, he’s really helping us expedite this.”
Boba Lounge & Cafe began as a shared dream between Sparkman and his sister, a co-owner, “five or six years” ago.
“Opening a restaurant – I guess you can call it my hobby,” Sparkman said with a laugh. “Providing people more experience with a different culture and stuff, that’s what it’s all about, you know?”