T. Tea BarPart 3 of this short series on unique specialty tea start-ups across the United States highlights a three-step process that resulted in a very modern concept called T. Tea Bar, owned by a woman, and the winner of her city’s (Chico, CA) 2004 Chamber of Commerce Women In Business/Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Shelly Blanshei and her husband, Lance, began their specialty beverage business adventure in 1996 with a landmark coffee house in Chico named Bidwell Perk, a name twist on a popular park just half a mile from the store.  Shelly says Lance, who also runs a consulting company, is a retail/branding/marketing genius and credits him with much of the success of Bidwell Perk, as well as the companies that followed.

Sensing that specialty tea would be the “next big thing”, Lance came up with Teaz Me in 2004, a break-through “tea bar” concept serving tea in many non-traditional forms, with frosted, sparkling, and steamed variations of the beverage, even adding fresh fruits as garnish and shaking the drinks with a flourish while customers watched.  Along with the creative tea beverages, they added a unique “hoodless” restaurant concept offering a fusion menu of rice bowls and wraps – in all, approximately 40 menu items.  The food was made fresh from scratch, healthy, and flavorful.  And most of the kitchen staff were local college and high-school kids.

In 2006, the Blansheis brought on partners in the business and Teaz Me expanded to three locations in total, including mall food courts.  But as it turned out, their vision for the company differed from their partners’, so after a settlement allowing them to keep the original Chico location, they moved forward with a revamped concept store of their own called T. Tea Bar and Fusion Cafe.  The other two stores eventually closed.

T. Tea BarT. Tea Bar kicks things up a notch.  Along with creative tea beverages and a fusion menu, they added a real innovation – one of the most unique things about T. Tea Bar and just what their name implies – a bar where brewed iced tea is served “on tap”, like beer.   As far as they know, this is the only true “on tap”-style tea bar in the country.  How cool is that?  And, to optimize the customer experience, Shelly says they have a “beat the blender” system, which keeps the store free of annoying and unwanted noise.

Shelly says the concept is working beyond their expectations in this youth-oriented college town and the Blansheis have plans to expand into other areas of the state in the future.  Their customers range from kids to grandparents, and everyone seems to enjoy the concept, and the Blansheis, immensely.  They were recently written up in World Tea News and have received a good deal of attention from the press in their area for their entrepreneurial achievements.  Shelly and Lance are a formidable creative marketing team who know how to put their ideas into action.  Anyone interested in the future of specialty tea retailing should keep a close eye on T. Tea Bar.