Moments after stepping inside Lulu Cafe I can sense its unique and welcoming character, which instantly stands out from your average Philadelphia boba joint. Located at 45th and Walnut streets, Lulu Cafe has a spunky, creative, and friendly atmosphere with a menu full of bubble tea and other snacks to match. I can tell the owner Janice Wang and the manager Tammy Chan are smiling at me beneath their masks as they usher me in and tell me to make myself at home, scurrying behind the counter to whip up a variety of the cafe’s bestsellers for me to try.
While the shop is small, its artistic decoration makes it feel fun and sophisticated. At first, I’m confused by the number of French bulldogs found in Lulu Cafe: a large blue bulldog statuette with silly sunglasses sits on the counter, images of the animal hang on the walls, and the company logo is even a bulldog. I quickly learn that Lulu is Janice’s dog, and the shop is an homage to her. Even the brick wall outside the building is hand painted with an image of Lulu and the Lulu Cafe Instagram handle, beckoning customers to snap a social–media–worthy shot.
Looking closely at the shop’s walls I see they are covered in photographs of some of Lulu Cafe’s most popular menu items, all taken by Tammy, who has a passion for photography. “Janice is a very open–minded owner who allows lots of creativity,” Tammy brags, telling me Janice gave her the chance to control the cafe’s social media. Janice also gives senior staff members the opportunity to create their own unique bubble tea for the “Employees” sub–menu, allowing them to name it and even having them design a postcard to match. Tammy points to a picture on the wall of her signature drink, the “Milky Way,” which is a dark brown sugar milk latte that reminds her of her childhood. She proudly hands me the beverage, which I found to be surprisingly balanced—it’s not too sweet or too salty, and it's not too heavy despite its rich description.
With her own background in architecture, it is unsurprising that Janice has created an inspired aesthetic for the cafe. A Taiwanese native with a master's in architecture from the University of Southern California, Janice moved to Philadelphia with her husband, eventually opening Lulu Cafe in March 2016. I snack on popcorn chicken and sweet potato fries as Tammy tells me more about the history of the shop with a passionate glimmer in her eyes. Both bite–size snacks are light and impressively seasoned: the sweet potato fries have a hint of sweetness, and the popcorn chicken has a tame spicy garlic kick.
I shift my hungry focus to Lulu Cafe’s “Poopie Soft Serve” making sure to get boba pearls, house–made brown sugar syrup, and ice cream on my spoon. I appreciate its silly name but above all its range of textures, from chewy to sticky to creamy, combining to make the perfect bite. This is my favorite dish of the day, and I can’t wait to head back to Lulu to try it again when they unveil their matcha flavored soft–serve version in April.
A new seasonal soft–serve flavor isn’t the only upcoming development for Lulu Cafe. A second location is coming to 18 South Ludlow Street later this year, bringing the same authentically Lulu vibe to Center City with an artsy twist. Instead of having an open floor plan that allows customers to peek in on kitchen operations, at this location the back will be completely private. Most of the space will be devoted to displaying art from the local community, acting almost like a gallery space.
Aside from food items, Lulu Cafe sells merchandise like visors and caps with the Lulu logo on them. They also sell bamboo reusable straws, offering all who purchase them a discount code for a future purchase to show their appreciation of customers’ efforts to protect the earth. And, to go along with the employee–crafted beverages, customers can buy matching postcards, each imaginative and crafty in its own special way.
While Lulu Cafe can easily be praised for its robust and unique menu with options anyone can enjoy, what really sets it apart is its creativity and familial aura. So, next time you are in the mood for a milk tea, a refreshing icy slushy, or a quick bite to eat, Lulu Cafe is the place to be.