The Steepery, Woodbury, Minn.


When Nick Nguyen and his family opened their first Tea Garden store in 2002 on Hennepin Ave. in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, they knew they were on to something.

Tea bars were the newest trend in specialty drink retail at the time and the Nguyen family wanted to bring the tea bar concept to the Twin Cities, as well as introduce the increasingly popular Taiwanese dessert drink, bubble tea, to the region.

Fast forward to 2012 and Nguyen currently owns four Tea Garden stores, as well as their newest store in Woodbury, Minn. called the Steepery Tea Bar, which they opened under the Steepery brand name because they wanted a more unique brand name that they could use in future expansions.

So what sets the Steepery Tea Bar and his other stores apart in the minds of consumers? For Nguyen it comes down to the quality and expertise of his employees. “We have incredibly friendly and passionate employees who do a great job of introducing new customers to our many drink choices,” says chief executive officer, Nguyen. “One of our goals is to show customers that drinking tea can be fun and accessible even to non-connoisseurs. We bring in customers by being active in our community and giving out samples at promotional and charity events.”

The Steepery’s best-selling bubble tea is the Royal Tea with Tapioca Pearls, which is a sweetened black tea with a chocolaty mocha flavor.

“Our flavored iced teas are also very popular,” Nguyen says. “Customers can either get them with a house green or a black tea, or they can choose from one of our 50 loose leaf tea varieties. We also give our customers the ability to customize their drinks.  So the options may be a little overwhelming at first, but once customers find their unique drink, they keep coming back.”

According to Nguyen, food and snacks typically make up 5% or less of sales at any given store.  Beverages make up 85 to 90% of sales depending on the location and time of the year. And the rest of the sales includes merchandise and take-home loose leaf tea sales.

Nguyen puts a lot of effort into training and molding his employees into the professionals that make the tea-drinking experience a memorable one. “We start by teaching them basic drink recipes and about all of the varieties of teas and flavors that we offer,” Nguyen says. “We also hire friendly, outgoing, and respectful people so that good customer service isn’t something that we have to teach as much as to coach and develop.”

Once his employees are comfortable with the operation, Nguyen gives them the freedom to experiment with new flavor combinations and drink ideas to suggest to customers. Nguyen’s goal is to provide a fun and relaxed environment throughout his establishments.

“Each location also gets to choose the type of music it plays — as long as it fits in with our relaxed ambiance — so that the personality of each store reflects the personalities of its staff,” Nguyen says. “I believe that employees stay motivated when you trust in them to shape the customer’s experience and give them outlets to do so.”

So what steps led to the success of The Steepery and his other stores? According to Nguyen, the first step is to have a quality product that people like. “Once you have that, it’s important to figure out who those people are,” Nguyen says. “Then you do as much as possible to reach out them and make them a part of your world. Making customers a part of your world means making sure they feel welcome each and every time they come in.”