Recipe for success: Business student brings bubble tea to Binghamton University campus
2nd Heaven sells customizable juice teas, milk teas, iced teas and lattes
When Leighton Blackwood ’21 first came to Binghamton University, he was disappointed to discover how hard it was for him to get bubble tea, one of his favorite drinks back in his hometown of Queens, N.Y. So, he set out to change that.
Blackwood, who majored in business administration with a concentration in marketing, is now the founder and owner of 2nd Heaven, a campus bubble tea (also called boba) shop run out of the MarketPlace in The Union. 2nd Heaven sells juice teas, milk teas, iced teas and lattes that can be customized into over 100 possible drink combinations.
For those unfamiliar with bubble tea, Blackwood describes it as an iced beverage with a tea base to which customers can add sugar, fruit concentrates and/or creamers. The drink often is paired with tapioca pearls and other unique and sweet toppings.
Blackwood always recognized that he wanted to create his own business, but also knew he needed a backup plan. He studied marketing and took on marketing internships and jobs, both during his time at the University and after graduation, all while working toward his goal.
When he had the idea for 2nd Heaven, he got started right away, coming up with a business plan and ideas in between his School of Management classes and homework.
“It was always a dream to have my own thing and build up my own future,” Blackwood says. “I knew that, long term, I didn’t want to stick in a nine-to-five job for the rest of my life. I always had business ideas, but I was always like, ‘How do you actually make it happen?’ And, of course, business is about finding the niche.”
Blackwood first had the idea for 2nd Heaven in his sophomore year, when he realized that a lot of students, particularly from New York City, missed bubble tea, and that there was a strong desire for it on campus.
“I came here from New York City, and a lot of my friends loved bubble tea from the city,” he says. “But getting it up here was pretty hard. I remember when College-in-the-Woods once introduced it in the dining hall for a limited time and my friends were really excited about that since it was hard for us to get to shops off campus. I didn’t have a car, so we had to get on a bus for half an hour, get some bubble tea and come back, making an hour round-trip. For us, there was a big interest in getting bubble tea on campus.”
Now, with 2nd Heaven open on campus since fall 2021, Blackwood has found himself taking on many different roles, from experimenting with new flavors and drinks, to ordering ingredients and equipment, and occasionally even working at the store and making drinks.
Through Blackwood’s journey of founding 2nd Heaven, he’s had help from his professional and personal support systems.
“There were so many people who helped me get to where I am today,” he says. “Binghamton University Dining Services, the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, the Small Business Development Center, my business partner [Darren Shi ’18, ’19], and my friends helped me a lot. This wasn’t something that was immediate, but rather several years of learning, personal growth, negotiations and competition with other bubble tea vendors who wanted the spot on campus. But, in the end, my support system made sure to help me overcome every obstacle I faced along the way.”
The road to opening 2nd Heaven took Blackwood two and a half years. In that time he learned a lot and continued to get the support he needed, all while working hard to open the shop.
“I opened a stand at the [Broome County Farmers Market] for eight months starting in 2020. So even there it was a lot of learning and development. It hasn’t been a linear journey, but the support that I’ve received from [Binghamton University] Dining Services has been an amazing opportunity for me to kind of just keep looking up,” he says.
“I’m just really excited for what we’ll do next. We have a lot of things in store.”