Designing a Social Media Sensation

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Susu Bubble Tea  

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Founded by Mel Cook in 2017, Cooked Studio is an eclectic interior architecture and design studio known for creating commercial spaces that inspire connection through experiential design. Specialised in using the science of consumer buying behaviour and human curiosity, the esteemed studio is behind the buzzing Susu Bubble Tea café in De Waterkant, Cape Town. Join Mel Cook as she traverses through the iconic interiors that made Susu an overnight TikTok and Instagram sensation.  

Size: 58 m²  

Cost: R850 000  

Completed: April 2022 (3 months) 

Location: Cape Quarter Lifestyle Centre, De Waterkant, Cape Town, Western Cape 

Behind the brief 

Susu Bubble Tea is the new sister brand of existing Momo Tea – the first authentic Taiwanese bubble tea brand in South Africa that was launched in 2018. We as Cape Town-based interior design studio, Cooked Studio, had the privilege of working with Momo’s founders, Samuel Boaz and Henry Francisco Castillo Kanashiro, over the past few years. So, we were of course delighted to reconnect upon hearing that the Momo Kiosk we designed for the brand in 2021 gained major success on Instagram and TikTok. Teens and varsity students just couldn’t get enough joy from sharing the photos and videos of the colourful juices, milky teas, and Momo slush beverages online. 

In January 2022, Henry and Sam approached us again for their latest project: a new bubble tea café, located in the Cape Quarter Lifestyle Village in De Waterkant, Cape Town. Apart from a few practical considerations for the back-of-house, the brief this time around was simply: ‘Make it Instagrammable!’ Essentially, the more brand exposure online, the better. We received the brief in mid-January and presented the concept to the client within two weeks. By mid-February we were liaising with contractors and costing out the full project with all construction details. After just three months, the store opened its doors in April 2022. 

Designing for the digital age 

The previous store used to be an art gallery, so we pretty much had a blank canvas. Apart from needing to install air conditioning and get some existing drainage reticulation points up and running, the structure itself was, fortunately, ready to go and waiting for a fresh start. The Cape Quarter Lifestyle Centre is finally coming back to life after many years, with quirky Asian-inspired stores and cafés. As the Momo and Susu beverages are super bright and colourful, fun to make, great to look at, and even more delicious to drink, we were passionate about giving the products a worthy home to match. We had free reign to develop a new colour palette for the brand while playing with human curiosity. 

I always begin every project by determining who the space’s users are and how we can use design to create a sense of connection for them. By exploring the little character displayed on the Momo/Susu branded cup packaging, and thinking about who ‘he’ is, what he would be doing, who his friends would be, and what his world would look like, we started to flesh out the concept. In particular, I’ve always loved this creature’s whiskers and eyes, so I quickly began sketching out how we could use lines and spheres to honour those elements. 

The ultimate goal was to create a space that would be the place to take pictures and videos in Cape Town. Therefore, we had to keep in mind how each corner of the space would be viewed through a cell phone lens and from multiple angles. We also wanted the café to be a place where students and adults are encouraged to reconnect with their inner child in a fun and unique environment. By creating a playground with fully functional elements, including a seesaw, swing, a portal mirror in the lounge bulkhead, and oversized, colourful furniture, we sculpted a tea shop that feels like an adventure for Susu’s customers. 

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Integrating ideologies 

As we were working with a Taiwanese brand, through discovery discussions with our client, we learned the importance of feng shui as being an auspicious value rather than the typical appropriation of the practice. As a result, we had to make careful decisions regarding the balance and energy of how money and profit would move throughout the space. Certain types of plants needed to be considered, and making sure that traffic flowed to the point-of-sale from both entrances was a vital consideration.  

Customising and curating the café 

By working tirelessly on each detail with some incredible people, ensuring every element was custom made and curated to fit into the magical world of Susu Bubble Tea, the end result has been a roaring success. We custom designed every element apart from the barstools, pendant lights, and vases, so that each element in this space had a partner of sorts. For example, the striped wallpaper connects to the striped Bloom Space vase; the vase’s pill-shaped element matches the form of the pendant lights; the ottoman fabric was custom designed and measured to read well with the tiled wall; complementing colours bounce off each corner of the space; etc. 

Post-project reflections 

One big challenge was that, because there are offices above the store, our build and design times were restricted to evenings. One night my team were installing the bulkhead mirror at two in the morning and one of the pieces fell and shattered. We decided to switch to mirror Dibond after that instead! We are so pleased that people have responded especially well to design elements like the mirror bulkhead portal, the oversized seesaw, banana swing photobooth, and large furniture items that were intentionally designed to bring out the nostalgia of sitting on ‘grown-up’ furniture as a child.  

MEET THE TEAM

Interior design: Cooked Studio 

Interior photography: Lionel Henshaw Photography 

Project management and build: Teqture and JKL Holdings 

Plant sourcing, styling, and installation: Naak Botanical Studio 

Custom sofas and upholstery: Hertex Fabrics and Giraffe Designs 

Decorative vases: Bloom Space 

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