From dustpans and suitcases to hairbrushes and chopsticks, one would be hard-pressed to find a type of item that hasn't been brought into the Hello Kitty craze.
The ubiquitous character produced by the Japanese company Sanrio in the 1970s is a global marketing phenomenon worth billions a year, the round, white face and wispy whiskers popping up even on fashion accessories.
Further proof of the success can be seen in the sugar cookie.
The first Hello Kitty Cafe in North America was to have opened Friday at Irvine Spectrum Center, with those upright ears and red bow appearing on the sweet treat garnished with sprinkles and icing.
After the success of the Hello Kitty truck, which parked at the Spectrum's Giant Wheel Court in November, Sanrio decided to partner with Allan Tea and Charlie Chien on a cafe and make the relationship with Irvine permanent.
The cafe is actually a pink metal shipping container covered outside with Hello Kitty illustrations while filled inside with themed snacks — they feature the full likeness of the Sanrio character or some feature thereof. The only seating is on an outdoor, roll-up patio.
It's confection city, with at least a dozen types of treats including mini-cakes, berry tarts and puff pastries priced from $4 to $11. The cafe will also offer craft apple soda and Portola Coffee Lab coffee.
But most popular of the refreshments seems to be the strawberry mint lemonade, as evidenced during a soft opening July 8. The sweet drink is crafted by cafe employees, who are dressed in pastel pink chef coats, and served with a pink straw.
Friends Esther Kim, 13, and Sally Kim, 23, of Lake Forest were shopping at the Spectrum that day when they stumbled upon the pop-up cafe.
After they ordered the strawberry mint lemonade, they took pictures of the fruit-flavored beverage as other customers photographed a pocket pie stuffed with Nutella.
"I think it's very cute and a fun idea," Esther said as she looked at the shipping container, whose patio can seat about 18 customers.
Hello Kitty cafes can be found in several Asian cities, including Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul, South Korea, serving as examples for Tea and Chien when they started thinking a couple of years ago about opening one in the U.S.
Initially, the cafe was going to operate out of a kiosk at the Irvine shopping center, but such a concept felt unoriginal, Tea said. He and Chien then thought of decorating a shipping container since it would be easy to transport, while a roll-up patio could serve as the seating area.
"Hello Kitty doesn't just appeal to adults," Tea said, noting that the majority of fans are over 25, perhaps because they grew up with the brand. "We wanted to connect the growing populations and the next generation of fans."
To do so, Tea said the cafe will offer an expanded menu featuring additional Sanrio characters and daily afternoon tea service in the next five to six weeks. The tea service, which will require reservations, will include a tea tower offering eight to 12 items. It's an activity fit for a group of girlfriends or a mother and daughter, he said.
Hello Kitty, a fictional character created in 1974, became a cultural phenomenon when she greeted the world with a "Hello!" on her first product. When she turned 40 years old in 2014, she was worth about $7 billion a year.
The cartoon character, whose full name is Kitty White, is portrayed as a bright and kind-hearted girl who adores apple pie, according to the Sanrio site.
She was born in the suburbs of London, England, and lives with her parents and twin sister, who is her best friend. Her hobbies include making new friends and baking cookies.
Such interests are shown at her latest cafe.
Each treat is served with a friendly greeting.
"Have a sweet day," the employees say with a wave.
Hello Kitty Cafe is at the Irvine Spectrum Center, 670 Spectrum Center Drive. For more information, call (949) 753-5180 or visit shopirvinespectrumcenter.com.
Kathleen Luppi, firstname.lastname@example.org