Discover Teas: Blended With Love

By Karen Haywood Queen

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Discover Teas founder Chris Farishon spreads the gospel of tea with the goal of helping her customers experience tea as nurturing, healing and soothing. To Farishon, tea creates a sense of peace, purpose and appreciation. Tea also means slowing down, a lesson she has learned in her business.

WTN141027_RETAILPROFILE_DiscoverExplorationStat3Farishon, a serial entrepreneur, opened Discover Teas in March 2011 in this town known for its colonial history. “I was surprised that in this area, being so historic, that there weren’t more tearooms,” she said.

The atmosphere at Discovery Tea centers on educating people about loose tea, complete with an exploration station with samples of tea out for customers to touch, smell and examine closely. “That makes it more approachable for people,” she explained. “They can really get to know the teas, see what resonates with them.” A small lounge with comfortable sofas and chairs offers a place for people to retreat with their tea.

Teas include Blooms That Brighten house blend at $8 for a 2 oz. portion, Newport News Shipbuilders Brew (named after a local shipyard) at $12 for 2 oz., DecongesTEA at $15 for 2 oz., Da Guan King Hsuan Taiwanese Oolong at $19 for a 2-oz. portion and Darjeeling Silver Needle at $35 for 2-oz.

Business was slow the first six months. “Sometimes we had to stand outside and pull people in,” she said. But growth over the last three years has been fast with support from returning tourists who make the shop a destination on their vacations.

WTN141027_RETAILPROFILE_DiscoverBlendYourOwnThe online business is growing more slowly, partly because out-of-town customers who might have ordered online instead wait until they’re back in town to buy tea. “Our customers become our customers because of the experience they have in the shop,” she said. “The challenge for us is how do we translate that experience to online.” The business has started to see some growth based on online advertising and social media, especially Facebook, she said.

Although people regularly ask Farishon when she’s going to serve a traditional high tea, she has no plans to expand in that direction. “The restaurant industry is not my background,” she said. “It’s nothing I want to take on.”

Farishon learned the hard way about jumping too quickly on new opportunities. When an existing tearoom in a new urbanism community in nearby Newport News went out of business, the landlord approached Farishon and offered a good deal.

“It was way ahead of when I was ready to expand but it was such an opportunity that dropped in my lap, I said  ‘Let’s take the risk,’” she said.

That tearoom, which is still open, has a kitchen. But after 18 months Farishon has yet to find the right person to open the restaurant side of that business.

“I thought I could take this model down to Newport News and it didn’t work. We didn’t have the same clientele. Advertising didn’t look the same. Networking didn’t work the same. There were more people on staff. It was a very painful expansion, even more so than opening the first shop here.  I know I’m a better business person because of those lessons,” she said.

WTN141027_RETAILPROFILE_DiscoverTeaownerbaggingteaFarishon also has learned that her best employees are loyal customers passionate about tea. She runs both shops now with four people, including herself.

“I tell people upfront who are applying: ‘We’re not really hiring people who are looking for a job.’ Those people didn’t connect with people on a level that I wanted. Our best hiring experiences have been our current customers who come around, have a relationship with us, get invested with our teas and our brands.”

Farishon involves her employees in decision-making, long-term strategizing and … cleaning the bathroom. “I don’t build a hierarchy,” she said. “I respect what everyone brings to the table. And everyone has to take their turn at scrubbing the toilet.”

Looking ahead, Farishon knows more opportunities wait, but at the right time.

“We were recently approached by another tearoom where the owner is ready to hand it over to someone—turnkey,” Farishon said. “But I know I’m not ready. And from the first week we were open, I’ve been asked about franchising because the model here is very strong, very well thought out. That’s something I’m definitely interested in but I don’t feel like I’m in a stable enough position to maximize it. I need to be patient and give this more time to grow with a strong foundation.”

 -1915 Pocahontas Trl, E-4 Williamsburg, VA 23185
PHONE: 757-847-5190
STORE HOURS: Monday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm

2170 William Styron Square Newport News, VA 23606
Phone: 757-320-4033
STORE HOURS: Tuesday – Saturday: 11am – 6pm (closed Sun-Mon)
Karen Haywood Queen is an experienced freelance writer whose credits include Better Homes and Gardens, Family Fun, Relish and USAirways Magazine. She writes with a cup or two of tea within easy reach.