Smile Politely

Tiesta Tea: A local success story

It was September 2010 when I first visited Tiesta Tea, a company that had just started about six months prior. Co-founders Patrick Tannous and Daniel Klein, two University of Illinois students, were operating out of their college apartment at the time, enlisting the help of any of their friends who were willing.

Klein has since graduated with a finance degree and Tannous left school, but is still considered a student. Despite the business’s success, he said that he hopes to finish within two years.

Tiesta’s office is now in Chicago, and they have a 2,000 square foot warehouse and packaging facility to boot. “It’s a far cry from what you saw a year and a half ago. That’s all because when you love what you’re doing, you’re going to do it well and you’re going to continue to try for success,” Tannous said.

A week ago, I ran into them in Dallas, Texas, where they were taking part in a regional food show for Kehe, a major national food distributor that serves small independent stores and big chains such as Meijer, Central Markets and Whole Foods.

“It was our first time being exposed to the national grocery market in a show setting. We came away with some very promising potential business opportunities,” Tannous said.

Those opportunities just seem to keep coming for the company. Klein says that Tiesta Tea is now in Canada, Mexico, the U.S., and the UAE. They’re working on Korea, which is a whole different venture (Tannous said that their business day was about to start as we were talking at around 5 p.m. CST).

“It’s natural for us to expand worldwide because tea is such a worldwide beverage. It’s the second most consumed beverage after water,” Klein said. “Our marketing strategy almost re-introduces tea to them,” he added.

In their journey, Tannous and Klein have brought a handful of people with them, including Bobby Moyniham, who continues to serve as creative director.

It was Moyniham who designed the Tiesta Tea logo and the tins, which tied for a Best New Product award for packaging at the World Tea Expo. From the Expo website: Vibrant and contemporary, these tea tins have a latch mechanism and a gasket-lined cover that underscores freshness. Side windows peek at the tea and suggest a reorder.

“I saw the need for the consumer to see our blend. That’s a huge selling point of our product,” Moyniham said.

The company has been successful expanding, but they’ve been working tirelessly for it. Klein and Tannous decided to go on a tea tour this past fall to target new audiences. “We had an interesting September, October, and November. We actually did road trips throughout New York, Philly, Seattle, and Vancouver. We went door to door to 500 stores in 20 days. It was the turning point of our business. You only do that if you feel confident about your product and feel it’s worthy of mass distribution,” Tannous said.

The trip was a success both financially and in terms of improving their business prowess. “We quadrupled our sales in two months. We knew what a good customer was like and what a bad customer was like after that trip,” Tannous said.

“It’s all about just believing in what you do. No one’s gonna tell you, ‘yeah, that’s a great idea. Here’s $10,000. Stop going to school.’ No one’s gonna say that. But if you really believe in what you’re doing and calculate the risks and rewards that can be had or can be lost … you’ll be able to decide that,” Tannous said. “Dan and I wouldn’t be here without our parents… They’ve become owners in our company and become a part of our advisory board.”

And they seem to be having fun. Tannous found his karaoke song of choice — “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)” by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons — and performed it with energy and intensity during the closing Kehe celebration. “Here’s the whole idea for me doing that,” Tannous said. “We’re the youngest ones there. Dan got carded at the bar. We’re here with a young presence and we’re here to have fun with everybody.”

Meanwhile, Klein was probably talking to some business clients to balance out the moment. They never seem to stop working.

If you’re looking for Tiesta’s product, you can check out the location listing or you can order via Tiesta’s online ordering site. Tiesta now has 50 teas that are classified into five categories. There’s also a new site in the works that will “add some pizzazz” to Tiesta and they’ll be launching a store accessible through Facebook at the same time. Every Friday is a Flavor Your Friday contest (through Twitter or Facebook) for a chance to win free tea. More information is available on the blog section of the Tiesta Tea website.

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