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International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day and, although we celebrate our founder Ning Ma every day, we couldn't let today pass by without giving her a mention.

We champion our own international woman founder of TeaJoy Ning Ma. This year's theme is ‘inspire inclusion’.

Ning’s journey began in 1998 when she emigrated to England with her parents. They left China to start a new life in England. Back then the salary in England was 20 times higher than Beijing and although Ning’s father was a prestigious duck chef cooking for VIP’s and the president he could still earn more in England. They ran a chinese takeaway in Ashford.

It was hard at first moving to the UK for Ning learning a new culture and language and back then Ashford wasn’t a very diverse area, the family faced prejudice and racism. They decided to move to London and open a restaurant in Goodge Street. The family settled in East London and Ning went to secondary school in Neasden. This was worlds away from Ashford and China with most of the children coming from diverse backgrounds, in-fact Ning found it a lot easier to communicate and make friends because English wasn’t their first language. 

Ning won a scholarship for underprivileged students and got into LSE to study mathematics and economics. Having graduated she joined PwC as an auditor and later an investment accountant at Coller Capital. Ning however found them uninspiring and always admired her mum and dad’s bravery creating a new life on the other side of the world, one so different from China. Whilst at Coller, Ning started to host supper clubs, she would work during the day and then in the evening host supper clubs, refining cooking and learning what people liked. 

‘Like most immigrant kids, we are instilled to work hard by our parents, especially having Chinese parents. If I didn’t get 95% in my test scores I was in trouble with my mum. You also have to help support them. Most of the time children pick up language quicker so most migrant kids will have to speak in English for their parents. When I was going to school I would also have to work in the evening taking the orders in English. When you see your parents give up everything they know and starting a new life from scratch in a foreign land it makes you a hard worker’


MamaLan in Brixton Market

Ning decided to leave the safety net of the corporate world and launched her own restaurant MamaLan (named after her mum). She launched her first site in 2011 in Brixton where she still has the original site. Over the years she expanded MamaLan, having 6 sites.

‘Launching MamaLan looking back I don’t know how I managed it. I guess I was in my 20’s so had a lot of energy, but I would work a double shift most days and then do the paperwork in the evening, sometimes I would work so late I would just sleep in the restaurant’


For most operators the most challenging period came during and after COVID. During the pandemic business was really tough especially as MamaLan are neighbourhood restaurants. Ning decided that one way to increase profits was to add to her takeaway menu especially in drinks.

‘Covid was really challenging. We couldn't add more items to the menu as our kitchens are not that large. One day I was scrolling through the internet and saw everyone complaining they couldn’t get bubble tea as they could not travel into London to get one. I had a light bulb moment and thought if they can’t get bubble tea then I will bring them bubble tea to them’ 


Ning tried to use other people’s bubble tea but found that you need a lot of equipment, you need a lot of space, and the prep time took over 2 hours. The other problem she would receive a lot of complaints that the drinks tasted different from the morning to the afternoon. She decided to make her own bubble tea. It took almost a year to create the secret recipe. Once it went on the menu MamaLan was selling 50 cups a day.

Ning with TeaJoy drink
Founder Ning

In the last 2 years TeaJoy has now partnered with over 500 sites in the UK from bars, cafes, restaurants, leisure sites and theme parks. We have now sold close to 1 million bubble teas. We also now work with the UK largest suppliers and we distribute to over 90% of the country.

Wholesale is male dominated and to a lesser extent so is hospitality. It is an old industry and still acts like one. Relationships are key and people like to do business with people they have a good relationship with. Women tend to have good communication skills. At TeaJoy, we are 60% women, 80% non-british and 20% disabled. We believe having such diversity brings a lot of strength and different perspectives, which has been a real advantage to us. 

‘Being a woman from a minority background has also opened a lot of doors. There are so many opportunities now for people like me and people are getting to hear our voices. I am speaking as a panellist at Impact Brixton Empowering Women Founders, TeaJoy is part of Bidfood open door programme and I am a panellist at Bread and Jam Food Sumit it feels like things are really changing.’


Ning at Great British Business Women of the Year 2023
Ning at Great British Business Women of the Year 2023

It is not to say it has been easy. Ning is a real inspiration behind TeaJoy; her commitment, focus and determination are unparalleled. Her hard work has been recognised through her nomination for Great British Business Women of the Year 2023. Ning’s journey embodies the essence of empowerment and inclusivity. In a traditional male-dominated, she has shattered stereotypes and championed diversity, with a workforce reflecting different backgrounds and perspectives. Ning had not only transformed her dreams into reality having created the best-tasting bubble tea on the market but had also paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps.

Here is to you our inspirational leader founder and original joy creator.

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