written by Elaina Bonora, BUDS Editorial Intern
Bubble tea - a milk-based tea that originated in Taiwan in the late 1980s - has grown in popularity across the United States over the past few years, especially among the younger generations. In well-populated areas like New York City, a bubble tea vendor can be spotted on almost every block; serving up new, creative concoctions and widely loved classic flavors.
New York City native and Binghamton University alum, Leighton Blackwood, was like most in that he, too, loved the refreshing beverage and had hopes of making it more accessible to students on campus. Leighton had a dream of opening his own bubble tea business; a dream that really began to take shape when he met his future business partner, Darren Shi.
The two met as a result of Leighton’s need for a ride home from Binghamton to NYC; Darren offered to drive him since the two lived close to each other, and it was over the course of that ride that Leighton told him about his plan to start his business. The conversation led to Darren offering Leighton use of his kitchen to come up with flavors and test out recipes since, as an undergrad living in a dorm room, Leighton did not have access to a kitchen of his own.
Over time, through trial and error, hard work, and perseverance, Leighton’s dream became a reality, and 2nd Heaven opened on September 1, 2021 in The MarketPlace.
In speaking with the 22-year-old about what led him to want to be a business owner and what helped him to succeed in this goal, he reflected on his time as an adolescent. He spoke fondly of his desire to own a business, even as young as middle school. He stated that he had “wanted something that he could call his own; something that he could be proud to attach his name to.”
Leighton also described the impacts that the education he received at Binghamton University had on the formulation and progression of his business. As an undergraduate School of Management (SOM) student, Leighton mentioned the importance of networking that was regularly stressed to him by his professors, and the accuracy of this focus. At the startup of his business, Leighton spoke to and worked with many successful businessowners and entrepreneurs, learning from their experiences as a mentee of sorts.
Additional support for his business came from the Student Culinary Council (SCC). The SCC is a team of students who advocate on behalf of the student body on dining-related topics. Leighton highlighted the SCC as being a major help in the success of 2nd Heaven, from providing student-based insight, to advocating on behalf of his start-up. He says, “[The SCC was] a powerful force behind me, to propel me to where I am today.”
From discussions with two other Binghamton alumni, Sung Kim and Christian Ko, creators of Chick-n-Bap, which is also a popular station in the MarketPlace, to the many mentors from the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator (a support-based environment building with resources for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs) in downtown Binghamton, the connections that the Binghamton University community provided were crucial to the success of 2nd Heaven.
Binghamton University Dining Services (BUDS) District Manager Jim Ruoff spoke about the significance of adding another alumni-run business to campus by saying, “It is an honor for BUDS and Sodexo to be able to showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of the Binghamton University Student. Both of our alumni partners have shown what hard work, vision and a world class education can do for you in the business world. It is BUDS’ pleasure to be able to showcase that.”
When it comes to advice for students that are interested in achieving similar goals, like owning their own businesses, Leighton emphasized having “a solid support system.” He continued by saying, “dedication is key, but even dedication comes and goes. My support system has been with me from the beginning and has helped me every step of the way to keep going. There have been times where there were ups and downs, times that I wanted to quit, but having a support system in your corner that cares is what helped me to continue. Having friends ask how it’s going with my business and just checking in always reminded me that I really am capable of doing this.”
Today, 2nd Heaven is a crowd favorite among the Binghamton University community and continues to dazzle The MarketPlace with its unique flavors and fresh ingredients. Each drink is specially crafted without flavored powders or additives, using exclusively homemade recipes and clean ingredients. You can check out all of the delicious bubble tea flavors for yourself here. Make sure to try Leighton’s favorite too: passionfruit green tea with lychee jelly!