From Test Tubes to Tea
Eric Ly knew he couldn’t be a biotechnology lab manager forever. “I’m outgoing and love talking to people. But working in a lab, I didn’t see people, I saw test tubes and paperwork. I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, I wanted something creative that would give me the opportunity to interact with humans.” Inspired by a trip to Vietnam, Eric and his business partner decided to create a café similar to the ones they visited in Saigon that specialized in Asian-inspired sweets. In 2017, they opened Coco Leaf’s first location in Dorchester, Massachusetts, followed two years later by the second location on Newbury Street. Unsurprisingly, Coco Leaf became an instant success with both locals and tourists.
A New Reality
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new, unforeseen reality for Eric. “It was a nightmare, like something out of a movie.” With dining-in no longer an option, Eric could not provide work hours to many of his 20 employees, and the work that was available posed significant health threats. “I now have two employees working. We’re here from open to close. Many of my employees didn’t want to come in to work because they didn’t want to risk their lives, which I totally understand.” The impact on business revenue has been devastating for Eric. “At the Newbury Street location, we lost about 95%. That location relies on tourists. On a usually crowded street, nobody is walking around anymore.”
Looking Out for Others
For Eric, who continues to prioritize the wellbeing of his team, the financial uncertainty not only impacts himself, but his ability to continue being a dedicated supervisor. “I need to provide enough hours for my employees, but at the same time, I have to maintain a safe environment for everyone. My decisions impact the lives of my employees and of their families.” Eric was approved for a PPP loan from Accion, which will cover the expense of payroll for the coming months.
Despite the uncertain future, Eric continues to work long days to prioritize the needs of both his employees and his customers, all while maintaining an unwavering sense of determination and gratitude. “I just keep maintaining hope, it’s the most I can do right now. I focus on being grateful for our health. As long as we’re alive and healthy, we can keep going.”