March 2012 – Bloomington, Minn. – The bubble tea craze has come to Mall of America. An Asian import already popular on the coasts, bubble tea is a unique beverage featuring pearls of tapioca or other flavors at the bottom of the cup. And its recent arrival at MOA – in the form of new franchise Chatime – was made possible in part by designers from Krech, O’Brien, Mueller & Associates.

KOMA interior designer Cindy Nagel described the task: “There are many Chatime franchise stores overseas, particularly in Malaysia and Australia, but Chatime is just starting to create a presence in the U.S. As a franchise, they already have many brand guidelines and design elements in place, but there were still plenty of challenges to overcome.”

The owners are a father-son team with Malaysian background. During the project the son was local and the father was in Malaysia, so it was necessary to connect in creative ways. “Skype video calls made international meetings relatively pain-free,” said Nagel.

Challenges did arise, however, as drawings and measurements had to be converted from metric to standard units, and material finishes available overseas had to be replicated here. “There were certain terms that didn’t translate to English very well,” recalled Nagel. “Specifically descriptions of finishes didn’t always make sense to us, but we managed to figure out that ‘plastic white poly’ was most likely ‘plastic laminate’ and that ‘baking varnish in glass’ was probably ‘back-painted glass.’ Eventually, all was understood.”

Differences in food service regulations also created challenges. Codes in the U.S. are more restrictive than in many other countries, so comparable equipment that met U.S. standards while fitting Chatime’s brand and needs had to be re-sourced. This was accomplished with the help of Mike Fedt at Pack-O-Mach / Bakequip who supplied all the US-sourced food service equipment.

To create a unique look for this franchise that still fit within the corporate guidelines, KOMA reviewed 3D images of existing international locations. KOMA designers pulled elements that they liked and combined them with new ideas. “There are so many innovative materials available; things we’d love to use but don’t have the appropriate application or an interested client. A project of this nature, along with a client who appreciates innovation, allows us to be more creative in our selection of finishes,” said Angie Rohlen, one of the designers on the project. Two particular details Rohlen cited are the back-painted glass and a sculpted MDF called Textur3d, both used as counter fronts. “We’d been struggling to find just the right materials and when we brought these to the client, they were very excited – it was just what they were looking for.”

Nagel continued: “My favorite part of this job has been pulling together all the various partners; Pack-O-Mach / Bakequip, Construction Results Corporation (the general contractor for the project), and project manager John Snyder. Everyone was very detail-oriented, great at problem-solving, flexible and even with a tight schedule managed to hit the deadlines.”

Chatime celebrated its grand opening at Mall of America on March 15. It is located on third floor South Avenue.