Justin Howe, president & CEO of 10-year-old Texas tea shop chain HTeaO is the iced teavangelist of the southern United States. “We are the only ones innovating in this space,” Howe said with Texan enthusiasm. “We are the first to market and most important, we are ahead of a major trend.” The trend is drive-through tea.
Lines of pickup trucks pull in for fresh-brewed iced tea, bagged ice, premium water and premium snacks.
It all began in 2008 when, in the midst of the recession, Howe’s parents, Gary and Kim Hutchens, introduced six premium teas at their Buns over Texas hamburger restaurant in Amarillo, Tex. and noticed a steady increase in iced tea sales. The following year, they launched Texas Tea, a concept that focused on delivering a variety of ultra-premium teas and water. In 2014 they expanded to Midland, Tex., and renamed the venture HTeaO.
The first franchise prototype opened in Midland, Tex., in 2018. HTeaO now has 58 franchisees with 130 locations under development, qualifying the company for Inc. Magazine’s list of Americas’ fastest-growing private companies. Maintaining that pace will make HTeaO one of the nation’s two largest tea chains by number of locations (The Spice & Tea Exchange operates 73 franchised locations in 34 states and is opening three shops this quarter).
Valentine’s Day marked the opening of the company’s 68th store in Webster, Tex. HTeaO plans to open 20 locations in 2020.
“We are committed to providing the absolute best quality iced tea money can buy in a retail environment,” said Howe, who is overseeing the expansion.
Today the chain markets 24-flavors of fresh-brewed sweet and unsweetened tea delivered with a flourish of showmanship that appeals to a thirsty but soda-adverse crowd.
The Webster, Tex. location features a tea brewing station where customers can watch the brewmaster siphon brew tea throughout the day. The unusual Japanese brewing siphons, seen in specialty coffee shops, captured the crowd’s attention and the combination of YETI merchandise, Clif Bars and Texas favorite Clint & Sons Beef Jerky.
Franchise owner Aaron Harrison said, “There is so much satisfaction in hearing all the positive feedback and seeing people’s faces when they try our tea. Webster is an amazing community and I’m looking forward to doing my part to give back.”
Howe told the Dallas News, “Tea is one of those things that’s an alternative to sodas. You can get to-go cups in small, medium, large, quart, half-gallon or gallon sizes, as well as filtered water and bagged ice.”
Tea flavors include peach ginger, coconut and mint. There are non-caffeine herbal options and high energy extra caffeinated “turbo tea.”
“Things are becoming more niche,” Howe said. “If you want a good piece of meat, you go to a butcher. The world’s trending toward more specialty products.”