Tyler McCormick of Spring Township celebrated his 16th birthday in July 2021, and his mother, Beth, thought he should have a job.
“I wanted him to work somewhere, but I knew there wouldn’t be many opportunities for him,” she said.
A former vocational adjustment services worker at Wernersville State Hospital, Beth McCormick decided to take matters into her own hands and create a business in which Tyler, who has autism, could work.
After some consideration, she decided a food truck — or in this case a tea truck — would provide a manageable and enjoyable working environment for her son. McCormick landed on selling triple boba tea, a variation of bubble tea — a popular drink for years in many Asian countries that is growing in popularity in the United States.
“I knew boba tea was getting more popular, and I knew it isn’t sold in many places in Berks County,” she said. “I like having it, but I had to travel to Philadelphia to get it.”
Triple boba tea, or tri-boba, contains three times the usual amount of boba, tapioca pearls that Tyler described as “little balls that come in different flavors.” The Tri-Boba truck sells tri-boba teas and fruit slushies to which flavored boba can be added. Asian-style snack foods also are available.
With a basic menu in mind, McCormick located a used GMC truck for sale in Delaware, had it retrofitted and started experimenting with recipes.
Knowing she and Tyler couldn’t manage the truck on their own, McCormick reached out to some other parents and posted on the Autism Society of Berks County’s Facebook page that she was looking for workers.
The truck went on the road last May with Tyler, an outgoing person with an infectious sense of humor, at the front window to greet customers and take payments. Working alongside him were three other young employees who McCormick had interviewed, hired and trained.
“With only four employees we had a limited schedule of events last year,” she said. “We took on more events this year and I expanded employment for kids who have autism, intellectual disabilities or mental health issues.”
Tri-Boba started out the 2023 season with 16 employees ranging in age from 15 to 20. Everyone gets paid minimum wage, which is all McCormick can afford to pay at this early stage of the business. She is hopeful she may be able to locate some grants that would enable her to pay higher wages.
For now, however, her young employees seem happy to be working and contented with their paychecks.
Tyler, who is now 18 and a student at Hill Top Preparatory School in Delaware County, saves as much of his paycheck as possible.
“I save the money, I don’t spend it,” he said. “You’ve got to be thinking of the future.”
Employee Asher Witman, 15, of West Lawn, admitted to being more of a spender than a saver, and Madison Kauffman, 20, of Spring Township, said she only spends if she has money with her.
“I’m better off to leave it at home so I can’t spend it,” she said.
Despite some occasional scheduling concerns, McCormick said her employees are generally dependable and pleasant to work with, and many have flourished during their employment.
Chores on the truck include measuring out water and ice for drinks, washing the blenders between uses, keeping surfaces wiped down and clean, disposing of trash and helping to make drinks and serve customers.
Business is good, she said, with more and more people becoming familiar with bubble drinks.
“Our customer base is teens, tweens and young adults,” McCormick said. “But they bring their parents with them and the parents like what they order.”
Asher, a tenth grader at Wilson High School and a health occupations services student at Berks Career and Technology Center, is learning to help McCormick make drinks. She said business has increased as the season progresses.
“We had a half-hour wait line at the Taste of Hamburger Festival,” she noted.
Working at Tri-Boba is her first job, explained Asher, who experiences some issues with mental health. She was nervous before starting, but said she is happy to work there.
“I was a little scared because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “But it’s very comfortable. It’s okay to make a mistake because Beth says that’s how we learn. You’re not judged.”
Kauffman, who graduated from the Janus School in Lancaster County and is enrolled part-time as a student at Penn State Berks, has been diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Working in the truck can get a little overwhelming when they get busy, she said, but customers generally are patient and understanding.
“We put a sign on the truck that says, ‘Please be patient, please be kind,’ and most people are,” Kauffman said. “Not everyone would be able to work here, but it’s a place where I feel at home.”
McCormick will be looking for more employees for next year and said she’ll start interviewing candidates in March. Anyone interested can connect on Facebook or email her at [email protected]. You can find the truck’s schedule and see weekly specials on its Facebook page.