The Bay Area-based Quickly has always been a cornerstone of 21st Century culture. Founded in California in the early 2000s, the now-international boba chain filled a niche for Asian American years before bubble tea was ever recognized by the mainstream. It was even the center of an FBI sting operation in San Francisco in 2007. It survived that notorious chapter in its long history, but now Quickly’s business is threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, as it plans to close at least 50 U.S. locations permanently.
Quickly made the announcement on Apr. 8 — posting the news on Facebook and shocking bubble tea enthusiasts, who expressed their dismay in the comments. For those who don’t know, Quickly is an international chain with more than 2,000 locations across four continents. It has over 60 locations in Northern California alone, with eight locations in San Francisco.
While it plans to reopen about 50 of its American locations after the pandemic is over, it’s unclear which shops will make it to the other side of this global crisis and how many San Francisco shops will remain when the dust finally settles.
Quickly’s San Francisco locations have faced challenges before. In the spring of 2007, District Four supervisor Ed Jew tried to extort $80,000 from Quickly store owners. These stores had run into city permit issues and a rivalry with a local shop, Wonderful Dessert Cafe. Jew promised to help the Chinese immigrant owners keep their businesses afloat — as long as they could pay.
The Quickly store owners went to the FBI, which conducted a sting operation that took place in Jew’s own Chinatown flower shop. Jew accepted $40,000 in FBI-marked bills, counting them one by one, all the while thinking that the people he was interacting with were other shop owners, and not secret agents.
Jew was convicted of federal bribery, extortion, and mail fraud charges in November of that year.
The boba chain got its start Southern California in 2002. The business expanded rapidly, opening its second location in Northern California in 2003. By 2005, there were more than 30 Quickly locations in the United States. Its current U.S. headquarters are in Hayward.
The ongoing pandemic has forced Quickly to halve the number of its American locations. Regardless, it was — and always will be — the OG boba shop, serving milk tea, slushies, and egg waffles for all its hungry fans.