Chado Tea is a 30-year-old tea salon with four locations infusing Los Angeles with nuanced tea flavors.The concept is known for its menu designed to enhance the service of a proper pot, as well as its cozy, calming stores.
While the idea of a “tea room” seems limited by physical boundaries, this past year has tipped over the teacup. President/owner Reena Shah has bobbed and weaved through the turbulence of the pandemic with the help of her team. She runs the business with her daughter, Bianca Shah, who serves as chief marketing officer, and her son, Brendan Shah.
Through a combination of technology, tenacity and being quick on their feet, the Chado Tea team has been able to thrive over the past year. The key has been a willingness to try different ideas and then keep those ideas coming. We spoke with both Reena and Bianca about what it takes to make it as a chain of tea rooms during these socially distanced times.
Reena Shah: “I fell in love with the tea room the first time I walked in. It was amazing to see and smell all of these different types of tea. It was the start to a long journey. A hard one but one that has been incredibly fulfilling.
Initially, running the tea room was hard. I think I made $25 on my first day. Confident that I could turn it around, I started working really hard. I upgraded the menu and woke up every day at 4 a.m. to start preparing food for the store, as well as take care of my newborn children. I even washed the linens myself.
After three months, I started to see Chado’s success, and it motivated me to keep going. After 10 years, we expanded to our second store in Pasadena, and now we operate four stores here in LA as well as an online store. While our original shop is no longer around, its legacy lives on.
The pandemic has been difficult for us. Obviously, we were unable to remain open for a large portion of 2020. And the times we were allowed to open, we had very limited seating. We had to limit the hours of many of our employees, which was very unfortunate. Luckily, we were able to negotiate our rental agreements, so we’ve been able to keep the stores open. We additionally picked up our online food orders, as well as ramped up our online tea store.
We’ve learned a lot about running a business in crisis, and we are confident that as things begin to become normal again, we will come back stronger than ever. We believe the future of the business will involve being more adaptable, especially in the face of uncertain situations.
Thanks to technology, getting on all the different takeout platforms wasn’t too difficult. We’ve had a website since 2001, so we were no strangers to fulfilling online orders, but we never focused on it. We had to change the way our fulfilment for online order worked in order to satisfy the demand we faced. We used to pack the teas on demand, which quickly became infeasible with the order volume we were getting, so we moved to a more traditional model of prepacking our teas. In addition, it required us to keep more inventory on hand. We blend our teas on demand, and we had to start doing that in larger batches. We did run into issues with inventory availability because of the pandemic, some that we are still dealing with, but we are very thankful to have had the online portions of the business to fall back on.
We have a wonderful staff who are always coming up with ideas. We have so many blends and ideas, it’s hard to keep up with all of them. We released a Rose Chai for Valentine’s Day, and some delicious Holiday and Fall blends. We like to take from popular flavors of the season and see what new ingredients are out or fun to use. I think my favorite of the blends we released is the Gingerbread Cookie Holiday blend. It uses black tea, with ginger, licorice, allspice, and clove. It is wonderfully warming, and a lovely winter treat.
One of our goals as a company is to promote healthy living among our customers. While we are always exploring new ingredients as they become popular, sometimes even before they become popular. Turmeric is a great example of us drawing from our own experience as Indians living in the U.S. As Indians, turmeric is often the go-to medicine for most ailments. We drew from that experience when creating our line of turmeric blends.
We did something similar with our Ayurvedic Blends. Ayurveda is an important part of our culture and faith, and these natural medicines have been used for centuries to heal. We were happy to make those part of our selection, and we intend to keep exploring and expanding our offering of wellness teas.
I love working with my family. We all provide each other with the support that we need, the kind of support you only get with family. Running the business together has made us incredibly close. There are definitely times when we all drive each other crazy, but it’s part of what makes running a family business fun. In addition, we know that we’d do anything for each other, so we all create a safety net in case any of the others need help.”
Bianca Shah: “The past year was one that I never expected as my first hurdle. When I took the role of CMO, I had so many plans for the stores and for the growth of our online store. When restaurants were forced to close for takeout only, we knew we had to pivot and focus on our online strategy. When Mother’s Day came around and the stores still weren’t open, we offered up an Afternoon Tea to go, complete with tea-infused chocolates and a two-tier rack to serve the afternoon tea on. This was a huge hit and made us feel confident in introducing new and different offerings.
People loved our tea-infused chocolates and so we partnered with Mignon Chocolates and created our own box of chocolates that people can pick up in-store and soon online as well. In addition, we introduced a few seasonal blends throughout the year that we’ll be bringing back during our holidays.
Making the difference in success has been the fact that I assembled a team of people that felt driven to also make a difference in working for small business. We are all passionate about being a part of the growth of a 30-year-old company. In the past our focus was very in-store driven, so turning to social media was huge benefit for us and we helped begin what I believe is the revolution of Chado Tea.
A growth mindset to me means being able to reach people through tea. It’s the most drunk beverage in the world only after water. My father is credited by the World Tea Academy to have brought Chai to the U.S., and if that isn’t a legacy to build on, I don’t know what is. Every time someone tells me that they do not like tea my answer is simply that they haven’t found the right tea for them, similar to wine. Chado offers over 150 teas on its online store, so we know we have something from everyone.
This year we are focusing on introducing some new loyalty programs as well as a new website to adapt to the ever-evolving internet. Right now, all we can hope for is that we are able to open our stores for indoor dining and be able to accommodate the parties that Chado is so well known for.”
Contact Tara at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie