- February 3, 2011
A new shop in Longboat Key is serving drinks bursting with flavor — quite literally.
The Thirsty Snail is a bubble tea and coffee shop that opened June 8 at 5610 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Bradenton couple Shelly and Jason Crouse opened the place as a fun spot for vacationers and regulars alike. The bursting bubbles of boba had intrigued them in the past and after looking around, they saw there wasn’t much of the phenomenon to be found in the area.
“We just fell in love with the product when we were in Michigan,” Shelly said. “It was really, really fun. It's an experience for most people. It's sweeping across the nation, for sure, but it's still pocketed in this area, and there was only one really within the vicinity, and we’re still different even from that.”
The Crouses are getting plenty of vacation business so far, with tourists in need of a midday pick-me-up wandering in from the beach. Some visitors will come back multiple times during their vacations to try something new the next day and the next day, the owners said.
“For me, I think the cool part will be next year when some of these people come back and they’re like, ‘Hey, you remember me?’ and I can say, ‘I actually do. How are you?’” Shelly said.
They’ve also picked up a crew of resident regulars who come in a couple times a week, so many that they decided to start a loyalty program — buy 10 drinks, get one free. Both Crouses sing the praises of the Longboat community they’ve encountered so far, noting that Chamber of Commerce members have stopped in to ask how they’re doing and that two residents spent half an hour walking Shelly through business Instagram tips.
“The Longboat community is, so far, in my opinion, much like a big warm hug,” Shelly said. “You have so many people coming in with concern, for you and for your business. It's just those kinds of things and recommendations, about the menu or about new drinks or, or whatnot, and we just love that. To me, that's more than just a welcome. It’s, ‘Hey, we're embracing you, we're gonna help you.’”
Bubble tea, or boba, is a Taiwanese drink that’s been gaining in popularity, especially in larger cities. It’s tea-based, sometimes with milk tea and often with out-of-the-box flavors like mango and rose, that features popping bubbles at the bottom. Typically, the bubbles are called boba and are brown tapioca pearls, though there are also fruit-flavored popping varieties.
“We stay right there and explain ... ‘This is what a popping pearl is. Would you like to try one?’” Shelly said. “For people who are unaware about popping bubbles, it is the reaction we wait for. Their eyes get big and they’re like, ‘What in the world is that?’”
Much like a modern-day coffee shop, a bubble tea shop will have plenty of options and ways to customize a drink. At the Thirsty Snail, set recipes are offered, or customers can specify their own. The Crouses are ready and waiting to explain the various bursting additions. They want to make sure each customer gets a drink and texture they enjoy.
“We can tell who is very interested, but very unsure,” Shelly said. “We explain as best we can, and then even let them sample some of the textures that they could choose from to go in their drink. And that way, there's no surprise as far as, ‘Oh, my gosh, I did not care for that.’”
The Crouses also serve coffee and lemonade at the shop.
“You go to a coffee shop, it's wonderful, but sometimes kids are still a little left out on the drink menus, so when we combined a coffee shop and bubble tea, it just kind of opened the doors to everybody,” Shelly said.