Customers Come First at Vegan Verduras

Verduras Tea House & CafeMILWAUKEE, Wis. — The sun streams through a wall of floor-to-ceiling front windows at the Verduras Teahouse and Café in Milwaukee, basking the sitting loft in a morning glow.

Owner Jennifer Nowicki is explaining to a customer the subtle differences in two Japanese teas as I wait at a dark wood table in the middle of the room. The customer eventually left with a mint tea—she was heading upstairs to the champagne bar on the top floor.

Forty-four-year-old Nowicki is one of the few certified Level 3 Specialty Tea Institute tea specialists in the state of Wisconsin, a commitment she directly credits as having a hand in the success of her business.

“I would love to know almost anything you can think about, about tea,” she said. “I don’t want to do it haphazard. I want to be knowledgeable and I want people to feel comfortable to ask questions. If I’m going to be selling tea, it looks good to be semi-intelligent,” she said.

Constant learning is how Nowicki keeps her business relevant in Milwaukee and the tea industry in general. In addition to reading articles and literature on tea (and planning to continue to a Level 4 certification), she attends the World Tea Expo as often as possible to network and see how others are running their businesses. Knowing what has hurt or helped similar shops helps her make the best decisions.

Social media keeps her in tune with the local community and aligned to their changing tastes. Verduras Tea House & CafeVerduras’ best-seller changes nearly every day—and with more than 50 teas, tisanes, and coffee on the menu, it’s no wonder why. In addition to drinks, Nowicki sells vegetarian soup, salad, and sandwich items. Verduras means vegetable, but she tries not to alienate her carnivore customers by offering one or two menu alternates.

“I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 20 years,” she said. “I don’t know if I fully know how to cook meat anymore. I do have egg salad sandwiches for [non-vegetarians]. I don’t want to scare them away.”

Verduras Tea House & CafeMuch of the premade food items and all of the tea are sourced from local companies. Being the sole employee of a small business drives home the associated challenges and Nowicki wants to be a help to everyone in her situation. Plus, Milwaukee loves the local movement so it’s ultimately helping her business. She even chose to have a teahouse with an Asian flair partially because the small store at the front of the building sells Asian handicrafts and she wanted customers to experience a logical flow.

Nowicki explained that her decision to open at this location two and a half years ago was strategic Verduras Tea House & Cafebased on the city (she used to co-own a coffee shop in Green Bay, Wis., but noted a teahouse would never flourish there) and the neighborhood. The Third Ward is a popular area with historic buildings and a rising population, she said. She looked around the room at the exposed brick walls, row of tea tins over the counter, and open woodwork on the ceiling, before continuing. “I like older buildings. This is more than 100 years old. I know they’re building a hotel at the corner. It would be nice to build up enough of a reputation by the time the hotel goes up that I’m somewhere you can come if you want a good quality cup or pot of tea.”

I grabbed a cup of my own on the way out, a ginger-lime blend that sparked a tongue-tingling sensation—not unlike Pop Rocks—and stayed with me the entire trip home.

Verduras Tea House & Cafe
181 N Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Inside the Isabella Ryder building

Sunday                 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Monday                Closed
Tuesday               9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Wednesday          9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Thursday              9:00 am – 7:00 pm
Friday                   9:00 am – 7:00 pm
Saturday              10:00 am – 7:00 pm