Students make deals to sell tea in 3 local stores

CHAMPAIGN – Tiesta Tea has struck deals to place its custom-blended teas in three local stores – Strawberry Fields, Natural Gourmet and the Walnut Street Tea Co.

Strawberry Fields begins stocking the tea today, and the other two stores will begin carrying it in September, said Patrick Tannous, the University of Illinois student who is Tiesta's chief operating officer.

Daniel Klein, who formed Tiesta with longtime friend Tannous, said Oh Olive, a new store in Libertyville, will also sell their product when it opens Labor Day weekend.

Tiesta will be the only tea Oh Olive carries, and that store plans to hold tastings, Klein said. It will stock 35 of Tiesta's 60 or so flavors, Tannous said.

The tea company has also agreed to supply a fifth business, That's Caring, a Chicago-area firm that assembles gift baskets, Klein said.

Tiesta is loose-leaf specialty tea. Flavors are marketed under five brands that describe how they affect your system – Slenderizer, Energizer, Relaxer, Immunity and Forever Young.

Local merchants said they're happy to carry the brand.

"I could tell by the samples they left they're really good teas," said Betty Elliott of the Walnut Street Tea Co.

Gay Amorasak, owner of Natural Gourmet, said she's "very excited about the product."

"I hope it's well-received by the community. I think it's an interesting idea," she said.

Natural Gourmet and Walnut Street Tea Co. are expected to carry 10 to 12 flavors sold by the bag, Tannous said.

Strawberry Fields customers can dispense the loose-leaf tea from vats, he said. Three flavors will be available there: Palm Beach Punch from the Relaxer line, Goji Berry Superfruit from the Forever Young line and Lean Green Machine from the Slenderizer line.

Tannous and Klein look to build business deals with cafes, grocery stores and gourmet food stores. They have also approached hotels about adopting the product.

Klein, the company's chief executive officer, said he hopes Tiesta gets enough deals nationwide to provide capital to open "a handful of retail locations in the next year," probably in the Chicago area.

Meanwhile, Tiesta – one of 15 student-formed companies that took part in the Illinois Launch program on campus this summer – has gotten assistance from Jimmy John Liautaud of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches.

"We pitched to him through the Illinois Launch program," Klein said. "He called the next day and said he was very interested in helping us."

Liautaud put them in touch with his creative director and graphic designer. They helped Tannous and Klein finalize designs for packaging and plan changes to their website.

"What they helped us do was build the brand and make it a little more fresh and young," Klein said. "We were a little old and stale and similar to what's out there in the tea industry."

He called the new branding "very modern and simple."

Tannous said the product's new logo is "easier to recognize" than the old logo, which was "more artsy."

"It's still us making the final call," Klein said, "but we want to give Jimmy John a lot of credit."

Tannous, a student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is taking classes on the Urbana campus this semester so he and Klein can develop the business together. He's taking a lighter class load than Klein, who also has cut back a bit on courses.

"We're scheduling meetings on weekends now because of school," said Klein, who is pursuing a dual degree in finance and entrepreneurship at the Urbana campus.

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