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Jennifer Nowicki, creator and owner of her new tea salon, Cultivate Taste, is not new to owning a tea shop. But creating a new startup in a new location while facing the challenges of an unpredictable pandemic is a new challenge. In her interview today, she shares thoughts on that process.

Cultivate Taste Tea Salon Interior, owned by Jennifer Nowicki

Photo by Stephanie Krubsack , WFRV

Interview with Jennifer Nowicki; Opening my Tea Salon

Jennifer, you’ve been involved with specialty tea for about twenty-five years. What inspired you to open Cultivate Tea? Was there a particular experience? Does your family have tea traditions? 

I opened Cultivate Taste because I enjoy being in the tea industry and missed having a tea room. I wanted to build up my wholesale and online before opening a tea room again. My family does not have any real tea traditions besides having it after a meal. I got into tea because of my grandmother. She enjoyed drinking green tea after meals. I started having tea with her, but cannot remember my exact age because I was very young. I do not remember not drinking tea. 

What guided you in designing Cultivate Tea?

I am just over a month from opening my tea salon. I choose the word salon because of the definition. According to Merriam-Webster salon can mean an elegant apartment or living room (as in a fashionable home), a fashionable assemblage of notables (such as literary figures, artists, or statesmen) held by custom at the home of a prominent person, a hall for an exhibition of art, capitalized: an annual exhibition of works of art, and finally, a stylish business establishment or shop. Obviously, I want my place to be the last definition. I am trying to give an upscale feel to my place, but in saying that I do want my place to not have an elitist feel to it. If someone comes in and is genuinely interested in good-quality loose leaf tea, I will gladly help them. 

Were there Covid-related issues that complicated or benefitted your opening? Delay your planned opening? 

I believe Covid was part of the reason it took longer to open my place and for the contractors to do the build-out for my place. It was noted that it will probably take longer because they did not want too many contractors in the same room. The one good thing is when I opened the restriction on masks was eased if you were vaccinated and I was. I still wore a mask if a customer came in to make them feel safe. It did not delay my planned opening besides what I mentioned above. 

 So, the actual opening of my place is probably like many other people who open similar businesses, it went smoothly, and everything happened on schedule. I was on my budget, and I timed everything perfectly. Ok, if you are laughing so hard you fell off your chair, then you understand completely. 

The basic rule of business is “location, location, location”. How did you choose your tearoom site?

I contacted the place I have my place over a year and a half ago looking to open Fall 2020. I had my ribbon-cutting on June 3, 2021. I fell in love with my space at first sight. I knew it had the potential to be a lovely space for what I want to do. My banker had some limits with spending on rent and I did not tell them of the space because the rent was too high for them. They steered me to another space I found that was much smaller, but the rent was within the bank’s limits. I did like that space, but it was a small space. Well, we got around to the lease negotiation and the owners would not budge on the length of the lease. My bank would not hear of having only a year lease without extensions, so I had to end those negotiations. I contacted my current place’s landlord to see if the space was still open. They offered a lowered lease rate. I was getting my dream space. There was some build-out that I was hoping I did not have to do, but nothing is perfect. The build-out took longer than I like, and I am going through some hoops with getting my place to code, but I am open and really like the look and feel of my space. It is also in an area that is developing and growing, so I have the future to look forward to. 

What was your opening days like for you?

I can also tell you that in my first week there were several times I felt like crying: malfunctions, not having everything I needed no matter how well prepared I was, and not having everything ready to where I like it. I felt several times like a fraud and not someone who has been in the industry for a couple of decades. I also was very tired during that first week or two because all I did was sleep or do something for my business. Sometimes I wondered to myself, what did I get myself into, seriously Jen. This will probably be very relatable to most people who open a physical space that is not ready to move in, oh it will cost much more than you think or plan, so try to have a cushion. Yes, I did look at spaces much earlier that I would have been satisfied with the space, but this one is the right size, rental price, look and feel, and is in an up-and-coming area. I absolutely love my space.

Jennifer Nowicki discusses how to select and brew whole leaf teas and the education process for tea entrepreneurs like herself. 

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Jennifer Nowicki, Owner of Cultivate Taste Tea Salon

Guest Contributor, Jennifer Nowicki, Owner of Cultivate Taste Tea Salon

Jennifer carries fond memories of drinking tea with Grandma following delicious homemade family meals. As a young adult, Jennifer discovered loose-leaf teas in Seattle in the mid-nineties that developed her palate even more. In 2005 she enrolled in the Specialty Tea Institute in New York City and immersed herself in the world of tea. Jennifer had found her passion and became acquainted with owners of tea estates, tasted teas not available in the United States, and learned from the experts. Jennifer is the only Certified Tea Specialist in Wisconsin since 2009 and continues to pursue her education with the Institute.