Hello Tea House opens in downtown Knoxville with bubble tea, pancakes

Growing up in China, Echo Liang spent many hours in bubble tea shops. It’s the kind of place people go to socialize and have a drink with friends, she told Knox News.

She and her husband, Eten Dong, are now working to build something similar in downtown Knoxville with Hello Tea House, a bubble tea, cake and pancake concept now open at 722 S. Gay St.

Liang gained some experience in the restaurant business while working at Chef’s Asian Cuisine in Hardin Valley, which she says is owned by Dong’s parents.

But Hello Tea House, named after the welcoming atmosphere they hope to create, is their first couple business venture.

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Rely on a sign, a social and samples

During the pandemic and with young children, Liang began to spend more time at home.

“I wanted to do something with them,” she said. “I have always had an interest in baking cakes.”

She was also interested in bubble tea, often traveling to Atlanta to sample what the stores had to offer.

The cakes and bubble tea seemed like a logical pairing, and her friends enjoyed her creations. And one Saturday, while taking an English class downtown, she noticed an available building in the 700 block of Gay Street.

The building was previously occupied by Fussies Deli & Bakery. It seemed like the right solution, and the couple have been working since June to make the space their own.

Eten Dong (left) and Echo Liang embarked on their first business venture as husband and wife, opening Hello Tea House at 722 S. Gay Street.  While the building does not yet have a sign, Echo and his daughter have raised the profile of the business by handing out samples on the sidewalk.

Liang first opened the doors two weeks ago and relied on a subtle “open” sign and handed out samples on the street with her daughter to publicize the business.

The store’s Instagram page, @helloteahouse, has also gained traction, she said.

Tea, cake, coffee and pancakes

The reviews so far have been overwhelming when it comes to his “bomb” cakes. Each is shaped like a bomb, she said, which allows her to stay consistent and bake cakes faster. The flavors and decorations can easily change.

In addition to milk teas, like the one pictured here, Hello Tea House also offers these bomb cakes.  This blueberry bomb cake is chewy, not so sweet and in the same "bomb" shape like all the other cakes sold in the store, allowing owner Echo Liang to stay consistent with her baking and produce more products.

These Asian-inspired cakes are less sweet than many people are used to, with a light, chewy texture. Earlier this week, Liang displayed a blueberry cake and a strawberry cake in the store window.

When it comes to tea offerings, the flavor combinations seem endless. You can choose from a variety of milk teas, fruit teas, milk slurries and fruit tea and cheese mousse slurries.

Highlights of the milk tea menu include Oreo milk tea and white rose bubble milk tea, while cheesy frothy fruit teas are offered in mango, strawberry or pineapple. .

Customers can also choose their own levels of sweetness and ice cream, as well as add extras. Pudding, aloe, and herbal jelly are some of the toppings that can be added in addition to boba, the tapioca balls for which bubble tea is named.

Hello Tea House, located at 722 S. Gay Street, has approximately 30 seats over 2,000 square feet.  The space was once home to Fussies Deli & Bakery, which closed during the pandemic and has since opened a food truck.

Espresso shots can also be added, although the shop has its own espresso menu with lattes, macchiatos, and more. The beans are ground fresh at the store, Liang said.

One side of the menu is dedicated to pancakes but, perhaps, not the kind Knoxvillians are used to. Hello Tea House Pancakes are served in a cone shape with fruit and other sweet toppings inside, making them an easy treat on the go.

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This could be perfect for those who work downtown, as Liang has noticed that people tend to be in a rush as they walk past his storefront just steps from Knoxville’s two tallest office towers.

But she encourages those in no rush to grab one of the roughly 30 interior seats and relax.

Want to go?

Hello Tea House measures approximately 2,000 square feet and is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The boutique opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday and closes at 6 p.m.

For those who are not familiar with bubble tea, Liang said, “I’ll just let them try it.”

“We realize that more and more people are learning this,” she said. “We feel good when customers feel good about it. “

Those who visited on opening day may notice more deals as the store continues to gain popularity. Liang plans to add a sign at the front of the building soon to raise awareness of the store.

She also plans to have a projector that will make the store’s logo shine on the sidewalk of Gay Street.

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