Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Day in the Life...of a Tea Room Owner

A Day in the Life…(warning...lengthy)
10:10am  Racing to the shop, and thank God it’s only 2 minutes from home.  My dear, sweet Siberian got her heart set on a squirrel again this morning and it is just too hot to leave her outside for the day. So, after several other bribes, “Frosty Paws” doggy ice cream finally coaxes her safely into her crate for the day. 
10:12am  Pull in the parking lot—thankfully no customers are waiting for me to open.  I just hate disappointing customers or making them wait.  Check the mail, park and unload my car: computer bag with my new computer which has not yet made my life easier, since I still have to tote my old computer too, as my new one has windows 7 that won’t run most of my old programs and it will take me months and months to convert over and run the learning curve on new ones.  So much for efficiency.  By that time, my computer will probably be outdated and I’ll need a new one which won’t run any of the “old” programs I just learned…. Well, you see where I’m going…  At any rate, my computer bag is heavy and a pain which is why I finally got one on wheels. 
I also have a batch of fresh scones that I made last night. Thank God for my KitchenAid mixer! I make them at home and sell them under “cottage industry” for two reasons. First is that when I moved to this new location, downsizing so that I could stay alive in this insane economy, I really didn’t have comfortable space for my convection oven and baking ingredients and paraphernalia.  Also, my food license cost would have doubled each year if I baked them on site as opposed to “cottage industry” in my home.  So, it was an easy financial decision.  The only problem is, my husband is getting fat as he can never resist a piping hot scone fresh from the oven!  (Just kidding, dear!) 

10:15am  Unlock doors, take the signs out to the road.  When I moved to this location, I got my own road-side sign on the large sign for our small plaza.  It is worth, well, almost all the tea in China to me.  It brings me so much business to have people driving by be able to see the name of the shop right out there.  I didn’t have that at my last location.   

But, in this economy, seems like enough is never enough anymore, so I put more push-in-the-ground changeable signs to put out teasers like an enticing “Lavender Lemonade” sign on a hot summer day, or one that says, quite honestly, that we have the “Best Teas in Town”, since there are not one, but two other tea shops practically within a stone’s throw from me.  When many towns don’t even have specialty tea shops, we have 3 within a mile of each other.  Sometimes the retail gods are just unkind, I think.  But then, other times, I realize that when tea drinkers try my tea—as they always make the rounds to all the tea shops, they never go back to the other ones, having discovered that my teas really are the “Best Teas in Town”.  So, in the end, it’s all good. 

Lights on, music on, plug in the hot water urns. Start to put dishes away from yesterday and an early customer comes in.  Yea!  Sample tea’s not made yet, but I guess that’ll have to wait.  Of course she needs the larger bag of Very Berry White tea, of which there are none on the shelf, so I have to bag some for her on the spot.  No problem, I love bagging up whatever the customer needs, but I am frustrated that I just can’t seem to keep up on bagging.  It’s a never ending task, of course.  I stock my shop with a few bags of each tea, so that the customer doesn’t have to wait to have their tea bagged every time they come in.  I use triple lined bags specially made for tea storage, so the tea stays fresh, and the customers appreciate not having to wait.  But with over 150 teas in stock, that’s a lot of bagging! 
That’s another consequence of this horrible economy.  I can no longer afford employees.  So I do it all myself.  ALL.  I used to have 2 employees, back in the good ol’ days when I first opened the shop—before the economy began to tank in 2001 and now we’re left with this daily struggle for survival—at least in our town.  I’ll spare you what I really think of the whole thing. It’s such an awesome and overwhelming responsibility to run a business like this by oneself, I can’t even allow myself to think about it for long or I crumble into mush.  I’m just like the bunny that just keeps going and going…  I don’t have any choice--other than close the shop.  And that’s just not a choice I want to make right now.  Or can.  But, that’s another discussion for another time.

Back to the brighter side of things, I help the customer find a new tea to add to her repertoire—perhaps my most favorite shop thing to do—and check her out.  Back to set-up:  make sample tea for the day.  What to have today…?  Definitely iced, as it was over 100 degrees yesterday and going to be in the 90’s today.  I glance through the “Tea Cottage” of tea tins I have on the wall and Peach Apricot pops out at me.  Ooh…that’s a good one iced! I’ll make that. 
Get the ice container out of the refrigerator to fill from the ice machine in the back room.  Another fallout from the downsizing.  The service area in this new shop isn’t big enough for the ice machine to be up front, so every day I have to fill a plastic container of ice and keep it in the fridge for ice for the day’s use.  I had to sell my old full size fridge and downsize to an under-counter model to fit the space as well.  Everything is in miniature here, but there are some positive trade-offs to these changes.  The compressors on the old fridge and ice machine were/are so loud, I wouldn’t want them up front in the service area, where my desk and work space is, too.  Being a bit hard-of-hearing, I would have trouble hearing customers over the loud hums every time they kick on, as I did in the old shop.  And with a smaller fridge, which seems to work fine for me here since we no longer do the lunch food service, the electric bill is smaller too.
So, I make the sample tea—juicy Peach Apricot, Iced—and while I’m at it, my first cup of tea for the day.  That’s the biggest plus for me in owning a tea shop.  Hot water on tap all day long, and over 150 premium teas at my fingertips.  I don’t wade through all of those every day; I do have my favorites.  I love green and white teas.  Our Monk’s Green is one of my all-time favorites.  It’s an Osmanthus scented tea, with tiny white flowers that smell softly of peaches.  And today I’ll blend it with a white pu-erh since I’m trying to heed Dr. Oz’s advice to drink pu-erh in the morning to shrink fat cells.  What the heck, it’s worth a try!  And, I’m a firm believer in the myriad health benefits of drinking tea regularly.  More than a believer.  I’ve experienced results and so have many of my customers.  Anecdotal evidence, I know, which holds almost no credibility in the medical community, but just google the research studies on tea, and you’ll see that there are plenty of bona fide double-blind studies done on tea which show astoundingly positive health benefits. 

Finish putting away dishes—the French presses from yesterday, plus mugs and iced tea glasses, silverware, and dishes from scones served.  And there was such a rush for the last two hours of the day yesterday, that the whole counter is a mess!  Tea tins and bags from refills that I didn’t have time to put away yesterday, ones I left out to remind me to bag for the shelves today, and some that need to be blended.  I love to make my own tea blends.  All but the chamomile ones—I’m allergic to chamomile.  If I blend it, which involves lots of stirring, my nose, face, neck, and arms itch for the rest of the day.  I have to beg a friend to help or enlist my husband, who’s virtually become the TeaMan around here, counterpart to my TeaLady role, whenever I need a chamomile blend tea made-up. 

11:15am  Set my computer up.  Sort through mail; throw out most of it. No bills today—yea!  Better check e-mail.   A task I used to love but have come to dread.  So much spam.  So much desperation advertising.  Even from companies that I like—they just send too much that checking e-mail has become a dreaded, arduous task.  It’s virtually ruined as a method of communication—and it was a great one.  But people are so inundated with unwanted e-mails that many don’t even read their mail anymore. 

Case in point:  I have been trying to keep in communication with customers through a dedicated e-mail newsletter list.  I send it only once a month.  It is colorful, not too wordy, has lots of pictures, and cuts to the chase of what’s important happening at the shop: new teas, classes, etc.  When I moved the shop 2 ½ years ago, I sent out e-mails letting the list know what was happening.  I was closed for about 2 months setting up the new shop, and I sent out numerous  e-mails letting customers know our projected opening date, then the real opening date, and then made a huge announcement of our Grand Re-Opening. 

About a year after I’d moved a woman came into the shop and said, “So this is where you moved to.  I’ve been looking for you for the longest time.”  I told her what I’d told everyone else who’d had trouble finding me after the move: “You need to get on our monthly e-mail newsletter list so you can keep up on what’s happening at the shop.”  And she quickly retorted, “Oh, I'm on it, but I don’t read my e-mail.  I get too many of them, and I just gave up on it!”  Now, I sent out at least a half-dozen e-mails telling of the shop move, and she hadn’t even read the subject line of one of them.  Sometimes it makes you just want to give up!  I gently suggested she just watch for them since I don’t bombard anyone with excessive mail, and check each month to see what’s happening at the shop.  I’ve actually started a monthly tea sale for newsletter readers only, just to bribe people to actually read their mail.  It’s all I can think to do. 
11:20am  Another customer comes in.  She asks if she can sit and have some tea and scones—do we still do that?  “Of course!”, I tell her. She explains what a hectic day it’s been for her already and how she desperately needs to just sit and re-group.  Besides, it is just beginning to rain outside, and as I look up I also hear a loud grumble of thunder.  “That’s what we’re here for,” I add.  We only have 3 small tables now but that keeps it quiet and intimate, serene and always relaxing in the tea shop.  So, once the ladies, and some gents discover this about us, they usually come back for more.  There’s nowhere else in town you can go to find this kind of peace and quiet, not to mention the exceptional tea and made-from-scratch scones.

I explain that I just made a fresh batch of cranberry scones last night which she said sounded great to her, and did she need to look at the tea menu or already know which tea she wanted?  She asked for a nice strong tea like Irish Breakfast, which, of course, we have, so I set about making her tea and warming her scones.  I also serve real clotted cream from England.  A pain to get in stock and maintain, but really the best thing to serve with scones, along with a nice strawberry jam.  I pull the glass plate, add a doily, and two new bird spreaders criss-crossed between little cups of clotted cream and jam while the scones are warming.  Tea first, though, always.  It amazes me how many employees over the years would want to serve the food first and the tea later.  I could never understand that.  What restaurant have you ever been to where you didn’t get your beverage first?  And I want their first taste to be the tea.  To me that’s primary-that first sip of tea starts the whole relaxation response.

4:50pm…Well, after that, it’s all a blur, and that’s as far as I got blogging today.  Where the rest of the day went would take 20 or so pages to elaborate.  So, it’s time to close up shop for the day and head home.  Grab dinner and do books on my laptop while my hubby and I watch a little TV.  Maybe I can put together that teapot order I’ve been wanting to do, and just don’t seem to find the time during the day.  And I need more infusers—almost out of those, plus the honey stock is getting low, and I would really like to find some more colorful teakettles to carry.  Oh, if only I could clone myself or figure out how to add another 24 more hours to each day!  But, I’ll think about that tomorrow.  Like Scarlet said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

1 comment:

Linda at Friendship Tea said...

Wow! I don't know how you had time to write this much!?!