PHX Rising Award 2018 Winner: MILK RUN
Written by Shanna Fujii
If you’re an avid scroller on the ‘gram, chances are, you have seen a flurry of images highlighting local business, Milk Run, splattered across your friends’ social feeds. Known for its equally photogenic and tasty desserts, Milk Run offers foodies a variety of boba drinks, smoothies, and homemade ice cream.
Milk Run opened its doors to the Phoenix community in June of 2017. Its simple white-and-wood industrial farmhouse interior seamlessly complements the menu, allowing its more colorful counterparts—vibrant milk teas, sweet boba drinks, homemade ice cream, and fresh fruit smoothies—to take center stage.
This past spring, the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce announced the start of the PHX Rising Award contest. People sent in their digital vote to decide who, out of six local Asian-run businesses, would become the winner. Thanks to its loyal following, Milk Run was voted as Phoenix’s up-and-coming business.
We got the chance to sit down with Milk Run’s owner, Tho Ly, and pick his brain while sampling a smorgasbord of the shop’s iconic desserts: the taro and matcha milk tea floats, the color-changing AZ Sunset Tea, their classic Thai tea with boba, and the “try if you dare” durian smoothie.
After talking with Tho, it was clear why Milk Run was voted as the PHX Rising Award winner. One interview convinced us they're the community’s crème de la crème—with a heaping scoop of homemade taro ice cream on top.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in Arizona. My family has been in the food industry so I grew up being in and out of restaurants. Funny enough, my family owns the Vietnamese restaurant next to Milk Run. Even though I was always around restaurants as a kid, I went a different route and got my degree in microbiology.
What prompted the change from microbiology to the food industry?
I have always wanted to run my own business instead of working for someone else. When I was a microbiologist, working in the lab everyday became very routine and I got tired of it. Now that I have Milk Run, I have more freedom and every day here is different.
Where did the idea for Milk Run come from?
I have always traveled to California for good food and boba. The inspiration for Milk Run came from all those trips and adventures. I wanted to bring a piece of that vibe here.
Is there a story behind the Milk Run name?
You know when you go for a late-night “beer run” or “taco run”? That’s where the idea for the name came from. Most of our products are created with milk, so if you go to our shop, it’s like going for a “milk run.”
What makes Milk Run unique?
All of our ice cream is made in-house. Before we started, I learned how to make ice cream from scratch on YouTube. I watched a ton of videos, bought the equipment, and experimented with different flavors and types of milk until I got the consistency and flavors I liked. In the end, we found using premium milk gave us the thick and creamy texture we wanted.
We also make all of our milk teas using real milk. Some shops use non-dairy milk, which isn’t bad, but real, whole milk costs more, and we’re proud to serve that here. We also use real fruit for all our smoothies instead of flavored fruit powder.
What is one thing you think has contributed towards Milk Run’s success?
Social media. While it wasn’t our main focus, we tried to create products and an environment that encourages people to take pictures. If one person takes a photo and posts it, another person sees it and wants to visit the place. Then they come in and take a photo and post it on their social media. It’s organic.
What is your shop’s most popular item?
Our milk tea floats are the most popular among our customers. The milk tea floats include a signature milk tea and is served with a scoop of homemade ice cream on top. Our most popular flavors are Thai tea, matcha, and taro.
Do you offer any unique menu items or flavors for more adventurous foodies?
We have a few exotic fruit smoothies we make using real fruit. We have smoothies made from durian, avocado, soursop (guanabana), and jackfruit. We also serve fresh sugar cane juice made from California sugar canes. We squeeze in kumquats to balance out the sweet and citrus flavors. At one point in the past, we got pretty creative in the kitchen and served a limited run of sriracha ice cream.
You were the winner of the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce’s PHX Rising Award. Do you have any words of appreciation?
I would like to thank the Chamber of Commerce for giving us this opportunity. They are very supportive of businesses in the Valley, which is something I also try to do. Visiting and showing support for other local businesses and boba shops is important because it is never about competition here. To the other PHX Rising Award nominees, we want to say congratulations.
We’d like to thank all our customers, family, and friends for voting for us. I also want to thank the Milk Run staff. Our team is made up of loyal, hard workers, and most of the team has been here from the beginning.
Who has been your biggest support throughout this whole process?
My fiancé Christine, my family, and my son. Christine is, and has always been, my support. Leaving a stable job to build something you’re not sure is going to become anything is a risk. But she told me to go for it. Her and my family are my number one supporters. My son, Owen, is my number one motivator.
What is your hope for Milk Run's future?
Expansion is a possibility, but for now, we're proud to have officially hit our one-year anniversary. This is just the beginning.
Follow Milk Run on social media at @milkrunboba or visit their location at 1702 W. Camelback Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85015.
Check out this featured article in the Asian Sun.