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The Denver metro area’s challenging real estate market almost kept Bao Phommatha and Julia Vang from fulfilling their dreams: owning a boba and dessert shop. It’s a sector of food and drink businesses that’s dominated by chains (think: multinational juggernauts like Kung Fu Tea and Happy Lemon), but the best friends were adamant on going solo. They struggled for a while to find a home for their concept until, as Phommatha says, their prayer was answered by a landlord in the northern suburbs, where the pair grew up and now live with their families.
“He had four or five other potential tenants as well,” Phommatha says. “We are not a nationally accredited type of restaurant, so we’re thankful that he chose us… We’ve run into a lot of issues with the places that we want to be in and the areas we want to be in. It’s been pretty hard to convince [landlords] to go with a small locally owned, family business.”
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In November 2022, Phommatha and Vang’s Kuluka Boba & Sweets opened in a brick building off 92nd Avenue in Westminster. There, they offer a selection of hot and iced teas with a variety of topping options, from boba pearls and cremas to egg pudding and salted cheese, along with coffees, smoothies, slushies, and three types of ice cream. But the real star of the menu is the mochi doughnuts.
To craft their own rendition of the fried treat, Phommatha and Vang worked on their recipe for more than a year. They came up with the best ratio of ingredients (a combination of tapioca starch, rice flour, wheat flour, water, and shortening), mixing technique, and frying time to yield the perfect texture—fluffy, moist, and slightly chewy—which Phommatha says was challenging due to their lack of culinary experience.
“It was really just making something exist out of nothing,” she says. “Julia and I cook at home, but we’re not restaurant chefs or pastry chefs. So it just took a lot of feeding our families and friends.”
Now Kuluka sells about 500 mochi doughnuts a day. Phommatha and Vang test and sell new flavors regularly. But our favorites include Spring Fling (a nod to the famous fruit-topped zucchini cake of the same name once served at the now-closed Market in Larimer Square), Fruity Pebbles, chocolate toffee, and lemon poppy.
In addition to selling sweets and drinks, Phommatha and Vang, Colorado natives who met as teenagers at Northglenn High School, want to foster Kuluka as a community gathering place. They named the business Kuluka (“I love you” in Hmong) to honor their shared Hmong heritage and set a welcoming tone for the shop. That warm vibe is also reflected in the modern space, which is furnished with greenery, sleek leather booths, and velvet couches and chairs.
“We want to make sure that we have an inviting space where people feel free to come in with their families, and that it’s not just a quick takeaway-type restaurant, and that they can hang out here pretty much any time of day because we’re open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Phommatha says.
In the future, Phommatha and Vang hope to open more Kuluka locations, but only if they can land the real estate. “That all falls on these commercial landlords,” she says. “We’re hoping for the best.”
6030 W. 92nd Ave., Suite 300, Westminster
Other Mochi Doughnut Shops
You can also satisfy your cravings for the treat at these chains, all of which debuted locations in Aurora or Denver within the past couple years.
Choco Churro, Matcha S’mores, and Cookie N’ Dreams are among the mochi doughnut flavors available at Dochi, a five-year-old Florida-based chain that turned on its fryers in RiNo in 2021. 2449 Larimer St.
In addition to producing more than a dozen types of mochi doughnuts decorated with toppings such as freeze-dried strawberries and sea salt and caramel, Devil & Angel also offers several types of croffles (a croissant-waffle hybrid). 2727 S. Parker Road, Aurora
This shop has an extensive menu of ice creams, teas, and coffees to pair with its photo-worthy assortment of doughnuts. Get one studded with crumbled Oreos to dunk in the ceremonial-grade matcha ice cream or a Vietnamese coffee. 2713 S. Parker Road, Aurora
In fall 2021, Seoul Hospitality Group (also behind Tofu Story and many other concepts) opened an Aurora outpost of Mochinut, which also slings Korean hot dogs and soft-serve ice cream. 2222 S. Havana St., Aurora