“Ever since I was two years old, I enjoyed drinking tea. It’s the last of the family traditions to stay with me—to have tea after every meal.” There’s a pause. “My mom always wanted to have her own tea shop, but she lived in China and opening a business back then was not really like it is now. The whole idea is still really new.”
There’s a subtle cheeriness in Jenna McCarthy’s voice when she talks about her childhood in China.
“My mom always had a lot of friends,” she continues. “It seemed like she knew everybody when I was growing up. Every time we had a visitor, my mom would ask me to go make tea. Everyone enjoyed just sitting around the table drinking tea and telling stories.”
For the Love of Home
When Jenna made the move to the United States, she tried to find a tea house that gave her the feelings of home, but she couldn’t find what she was looking for. Everywhere she looked, she found cafes, but most of them, especially the larger chains, didn’t show any real enthusiasm for tea. There wasn’t anything to fall in love with in any of those places.
“It took a couple of years, and I spent a lot of time researching before I told my family that I thought I should just start a tea house myself,” smiles Jenna. “I told them I wanted a place where people could come enjoy a little peace and forget everything else for a little while and just enjoy some tea. I wanted it to be like home.”
Her family was very supportive of her desire, and so born was Tea Talk, an intimate cafe that resides in a plaza in upstate New York. The decor is a palette of soft earth hues; one wall is lined five shelves high with various types of loose leaf teas, while the wall adjacent has an assortment of brightly colored teapots and mugs. The seating is inviting with small tables nestled low in each arrangement.
There was something different—something that felt genuine—about what Jenna had accomplished in her developing tea house. Still though, what she created had to compete with all kinds of cafes, and unless people were really aware of what made her place unique, the market was not necessarily ripe with opportunity.
“The area is very competitive as far as cafes go in general. They’re everywhere, even if they’re not really considered cafes,” Jenna explains. “There are a lot of places that sell tea and sandwiches. Recently, Starbucks has really been getting into more teas, but no one is doing it like a tea house—at least not in my area.”
All She Ever Wanted
If it wasn’t for the obvious success that Tea Talk is experiencing, it would be easier to assume that Jenna is like anyone else out there who had taken a risk and needs to convince themselves that what they created is more than just marginally different from the rest of the crowd.
“Normally after the holidays, it’s just too cold with too much snow for people to come out, and so in January and February, sales typically go down about 20-30 percent,” she says. “This year was different. Instead of going down, sales went up by at least 20 percent. There were times we actually had a line of people waiting. I had to scramble to get more employees to keep up with demand.”
That kind of success was so impactful that Jenna decided to open up another location. It’s more space that Jenna can share her collection of over 100 teas and more space for people to relax, learn more about tea, and share stories of their own. That’s all she ever wanted—space to share a family tradition. It might not be the entrepreneurial endeavor people think of when imagining success, but as for Jenna, she is successful, and she’s getting to do something bigger than herself. Jenna is getting to pursue the dreams of her mother.