May 12, 2022 - Food and Drink

Poke Bay, Kung Fu Tea to close after UT purchase

A line stretches outside Poke Bay and Kung Fu Tea near the University of Texas campus. Photo: Nicole Cobler/Axios

Dozens of customers wrapped around the building that houses Poke Bay and Kung Fu Tea over the lunch hour Wednesday as a viral video about the University of Texas' purchase of the land near campus gained traction among residents and students.

Driving the news: The TikTok video created by Angelica Song, daughter of Poke Bay owner Paul Song, spurred outrage among students and motivated an onslaught of customers, alarmed to hear that the business would close in just a few weeks.

  • Through tears, Angelica Song urged Austinites to support the restaurant: "Unfortunately, UT Austin bought out the building that my parents are tenants at and essentially are just kicking them out."

State of play: Four businesses at the site — Poke Bay, Kung Fu Tea, Electric 13 Tattoo and Smoke City — must leave by October after UT purchased the property at 2001 Guadalupe St. and notified tenants of their plans to turn the address into a new campus building.

  • The move is part of UT's expansion plan in the area. The school now owns the former Dobie Center next door, which it intends to use for affordable housing.
  • UT told Poke Bay and Kung Fu Tea's owners that their leases will expire in October, although Paul Song has said he will close the restaurant by the end of this month.
Kung Fu Tea owner Matt Gong (left) stands behind the counter with employees Audrika Masud (center) and Sayde Paulson (right). Photo: Nicole Cobler/Axios

What they're saying: Kung Fu Tea owner Matt Gong, a UT alumnus, stood behind the counter Wednesday with two employees, UT students Sayde Paulson and Audrika Masud.

  • Kung Fu Tea first opened at Guadalupe in 2019, just before the pandemic, and Gong, 38, plans to keep his business open until the October deadline.
  • "This is my only source of income, so it's like my whole life is depending on it," he added.

Meanwhile, Paul Song has said he will retire after closing Poke Bay this month.

  • In a video update this week, Angelica Song said her parents were overwhelmed with customers in recent days, which forced them to close briefly midday and even sell out of food for the first time since the business launched.

"Technically, UT Austin doesn't owe my parents anything, but it just sucks that a school that has so much money and resources can't even help my parents out,” Song said.

The other side: University spokesperson Eliska Padilla told Axios that UT officials "will engage [local businesses] in conversations about other university options for relocation."

  • "As the university continues to find ways to serve our students, provide additional housing options, and advance our educational mission, we acknowledge the challenges created by our growth — especially combined with Austin’s growth," Padilla said.

The bottom line: The episode is just the latest sign of a changing Austin that has pushed out small businesses to make way for new towers and a growing population.


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