The new boba shop, Steep, at Valencia and 19th. Photo by Lingzi Chen, taken May 23, 2023.

New boba drinks are now available at an old destination: Steep Creamery and Tea recently opened its doors at 19th and Valencia streets, the exact spot where long lines would form for the now-shuttered Boba Guys.

Steep Creamery and Tea is, seemingly, a different kind of shop: A local boba store owned by nonprofit Juma Ventures, which largely hires teenagers and other youth who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity, who have been involved in the foster care system, or who have a juvenile or criminal justice history. 

“Some people hire young people to sell boba,” said Lucia Fernandez-Palacios, the nonprofit’s marketing director. “We sell boba so that we can hire young people and give them jobs.”

Juma bought Steep from its founders in late 2021, and the new Mission store is the boba store’s second branch after the original one on Brannan Street. 

The store, which opened in mid-April, is one month into its soft opening.

Juma Ventures operates concession stands at sports and entertainment venues, such as Oracle Park in San Francisco and Levi’s Stadium at Santa Clara. Steep has been a recent, and novel, addition to their portfolio. 

The opening of Steep’s Mission branch fills up the vacancy left by its predecessor: Boba Guys closed its original Mission store last December and fired their workers en masse, following a battle between employees and the store’s owners over alleged mistreatment and wrongful termination. 

Soon after, the building’s landlord approached Juma Ventures in search of a new tenant for the commercial space, according to Fernandez-Palacios.

“We weren’t planning on it,” said Fernandez-Palacios, “but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity, just because this is a great location.” According to her, many of the “Juma Youths” who are part of the nonprofit’s job training program are from the Mission District and attend Mission High or Balboa High. Most are between 16 and 20, though anyone between 16 and 24 is eligible to apply.

This new boba store has some 10 Juma Youth workers, plus three Juma staff serving as store manager and assistant managers. Pay starts at $18.07 an hour — the city’s minimum wage — and can go up to $23 an hour with promotion and raise, Fernandez-Palacios said.

The company’s program to build a pool of youth is through application, and the store will hire through that pool exclusively. The application season is over for the year, but the next window opens in January, 2024.

Juma is employing 160 young people across San Francisco to work at Oracle Park and Steep this year, according to Fernandez-Palacios.

a counter with stickers and plastic bottles
At the counter of Steep. Photo by Lingzi Chen, taken May 23, 2023.

At the new Steep store, the manager and assistant managers are expected to provide the support for the youth working there. “So it’s okay if, one day, you’re having a bad day,” Fernandez-Palacios said with a smile, “you’re not going to get fired; you’re probably going to be asked: ‘What’s going on? Is there anything that we can do? Do you need to go home?’”

“Some of the young people that we work with have had challenges or hurdles in their life, and Juma tries to provide a very nurturing environment,” said Fernandez-Palacios.

Juma also operates in San Jose, Sacramento and Seattle. But in San Francisco, those in the youth pool tend to be younger.

The new Steep store in the Mission will also cater to bulk orders from offices and elsewhere. Last Thursday, it received its first catering order of 30 drinks. Le Tung, the store manager and a proficient boba drink maker, said it took her and a colleague two hours to make and pack the drinks.

Fernandez-Palacios, for her part, said the conflicts and closure of Boba Guys have created a “full-circle story” for the Mission location: “It ended up with another boba shop.”

For now, Steep is open seven days a week from noon to 7 p.m.. When the weather gets warmer, Fernandez-Palacios says, hours may extend.

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Lingzi is our newest reporting intern. She covered essential workers in New York City during the pandemic and wrote about China’s healthcare and women’s rights back in college. Before coming to America to pursue her dream in journalism, Lingzi taught in the Department of Chinese Studies in National University of Singapore.

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  1. This is great. I stopped taking my kids to Boba Guys for their occasional boba treats after finding out they closed the Valencia shop to avoid a union. Really vile behavior by the owners of Boba Guys.