How to start a tea shop...
Starting a business is hard. Starting a business in the food and beverage industry is even harder.
Starting a business in the food and beverage industry during a global pandemic and an economic downturn sounded like a preposterous idea. But it's what I wanted to do. It's been a dream, and if not now... when?
We started planning this business in 2019. Things were simpler. We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and how to execute it. In early 2020, we were ready. We had started ordering products, looking at locations, buying equipment, and turning the first floor of our home into what was basically a giant storage unit. We talked about partnering with local business to do a space-sharing test run of the concept before moving to a permanent location. We were ready for a grand opening in the summer of 2020.
In March of 2020, we embarked on a long-awaited vacation to Brussels and Amsterdam, eager to take in the culture and visit our sister Ariele, who lives in the Netherlands. Less than 8 hours after landing in Brussels, we were booking flights home for the next day. An ambiguous travel ban had been announced. Friends with connections within the State Department told us to "get the hell out now". We were disappointed in having to cut our trip short, but we were more disappointed in having to inevitably push back the opening of our business.
Months went by, everyday having to look at the mass of equipment and boxes in our living room that was supposed to be our tea shop. We continued to scouting locations and trying to figure out if it was even possible to open in the next 18 months, which was the projected timeline before substantial downturns in Covid-19 cases. Nothing seemed to work in our favor. Maybe a pop-up tea shop or a mobile tea shop would work? We just didn't know.
We decided to push our location search out to the suburbs. We live just north of UofL, so we had previously been focusing on Downtown/Old Louisville spaces, but things change. We had to be flexible. The first spot we looked was off of Frankfort Avenue. Naturally, that was leased before we could make a final decision on it and subsequently turned into a coffee shop. We were demoralized. Then we viewed what would become our current home in Norton Commons. We were concerned with the costs (it's expensive), distance (it's far from our home), and proximity to other tea shops (there were several). We'd only ever been to Norton Commons once before and gotten lost in the maze of streets. But what did we have to lose at this point besides an hour of our time?
We walked out of that gravel-floored, bare-walled dust pit knowing that this was it. This was our opportunity. We built a plan for opening in Norton Commons, got contractors on the phone, and started our preparations for opening. This was June of 2020.
Now, as new business owners, we're not afraid to admit that we were naive to the time commitment and energy required for a full buildout. We received our first basic sketch from an architect and thought 'Okay, let's get building'. Turns out, you need what seems like a thousand blueprints and a thousand permits before getting started. We thought we could open in September. What idiots we were. That was about the time we got a final permit to begin obtaining a permit to begin construction.
The week before Thanksgiving, we still had bare walls. But we had a concrete floor, so that's something. We wanted to be open before Christmas to try and capture some holiday sales. Not a chance. Our contractors pushed to have everything in place, but we knew we couldn't open by Christmas. There's just too many things that change, too many things that can go wrong, and too much impact from Covid-19 for things to go to plan. After construction was finally completed and we received our sign-off from the local inspectors, we breathed a sigh of relief, then inhaled again as we lifted thousands of pounds worth of machinery into trucks and got moving. We filled that space faster than we could have imagined. We filled shelves, got our processes in order, and turned an empty pit in the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
Our Grand Opening was phenomenal but exhausting. We learned that we in fact needed to hire people. That's a good problem to have... we were busy. We learned that we underestimated the demand for baked goods. That's fine... we'll find an offsite bakery to make our products. We learned that you have to take chances to create a business. We've missed too many opportunities to let one slip through our fingers again. We'll grow this place into something great, that everyone can be proud of. We want to succeed, and we want to do it with you all.
Jasmine Gatti (Owner/Chief Tea Officer)
Logan Gatti (Professional Scone Taster)