Dallas-based Rakkasan Tea Company, co-owned by combat veterans Brandon Friedman and Terrence “TK” Kamauf, has opened its first brick-and-mortar retail spot at 1619 N. Hall Street at Ross Avenue.
While RTC has endured its share of challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, from international shipping issues to agriculture-related ups and downs, the company has primarily been able to grow its specialty tea business in the last year. So much so, that Friedman and Kamauf have moved their operations from a 300-square-foot office in Deep Ellum to a 1,600-square-foot retail space in a part of Old East Dallas buzzing with other nearby local beverage companies, like Bar & Garden natural wine shop and Fiction Coffee.
Friedman and Kamauf served together in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, where they learned about tea culture over meetings with Kurdish fighters. In 2017, they launched RTC with a mission to promote peace and economic development in post-conflict countries, to help heal from war both at home and abroad.
They source premium loose-leaf tea — black, green, white, fermented and herbal — from Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Colombia. Over the last year, they’ve added tea from Bangladesh, as well as a variety of new flavors, like a Colombian green tea blended with pear guava and soursop, Sri Lankan tea rods, a caffeine-free hibiscus herbal, and Paksong Stardust, a green tea grown in meteoric soil in Laos. They’ve also created their first blend, Rakkasan Breakfast, a combination of three black teas.
RTC also hired a fellow veteran, Lance John, who served overseas with Friedman and Kamauf in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, in a regiment known as the Rakkasans, and they partnered with a veteran-owned advertising firm, Diesel Jack Media, to create a social media marketing campaign.
“We have tripled and in some cases quadrupled our sales,” Friedman says of the last year. “People want their tea, kind of like a comfort food.”
Tea has certainly been a bright spot during the pandemic, with many companies seeing growth in online sales as people stayed home and sought out a relaxing and healthful beverage. According to WorldTeaNews, grocery stores sales of tea in the U.S. increased by 26.1% during most of 2020. And specialty tea in particular saw triple-digit increases in e-commerce sales worldwide early in the pandemic, reports Forbes.
And while Friedman says RTC is still primarily an e-commerce company, he thinks adding a brick-and-mortar location will help offset any dips in online sales as people return to buying in person. And while tastings and events will be offered at some point, the new spot is not a sit-down tea room with tea service. It’s retail only. You can browse teas by type (black, green, etc.) or by origin, where you can learn the stories behind the teas down to the farmers who plucked the leaves.
Friedman says the company received pandemic-related financial aid, including a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration.
“Both loans combined did exactly what they were intended for,” Friedman says. “Without those loans, we probably wouldn’t have survived. With those loans, we were able to survive and thrive. We’re a pretty good example of why those loans even exist.”
Rakkasan Tea Company opened April 25 at 1619 N. Hall Street. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment (firstname.lastname@example.org). rakkasantea.com.
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