Charlie and Urania Chien, left, and business partner Allan Tea, are co-owners of America’s first Hello Kitty Cafe, located in Irvine Spectrum Center.

How three entrepreneurs opened America’s first Hello Kitty Cafe

by LORI BASHEDA

Listen up, all you young entrepreneurs: Here’s a story about the power of perseverance.

It begins in 2009 when Irvine couple Urania and Charlie Chien visited a Hello Kitty Cafe while in Taiwan. And it ends nine years later when they opened America’s first – and only – Hello Kitty Grand Cafe at Irvine Spectrum Center.

Urania is the kind of super fan that still has her Hello Kitty pencils from elementary school. So as soon as they got home from their 2009 trip, she began emailing Hello Kitty owner Sanrio (a more than $6 billion corporation) every month, asking to launch its first Hello Kitty Cafe in America.

For five years, she did not get a response. Then, Sanrio let the couple open a Hello Kitty food truck. By this time, they had enlisted the help of friend Allan Tea, whose family owns Capital Seafood, in Irvine Spectrum Center. The three of them drove to 80 cities, where their pink pop-up truck was such a hit that people chased after them.

In 2018, Sanrio said yes to a European-style Hello Kitty cake shop at Irvine Spectrum Center – America’s first.

Its one-of-a-kind “Bow Room” – available for afternoon teas (all ages) and evening cocktails (21 and over) – has racked up millions of social media mentions, and stories in People and USA Today.

Tea’s advice to budding entrepreneurs: travel, try new things and network.

“Don’t hide underneath a shell. Get out there and meet people. You never know who you’re going to run into and what that’s going to turn into.”