Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Tantara Farms.
Clayton Lile and his father-in-law, Keith Williams, opened their ingredient venture off Fremont Avenue and Republic Road in August 2017 after years of preparation and planning.
That first day, Lile remembers having 30 varieties of teas and 25 oils in the store.
Now, Tantara Farms offers around 100 loose-leaf teas, a tap room of 50 balsamics and oils, which customers can sample before they buy, as well as a large selection of herbs, spices, rubs, sugars and air-roasted coffees. It’s a family-owned and operated business, and Williams, Lile and his wife, Jaime, can be found managing the store Monday through Saturday.
“It took about two years to draw the conception of what we wanted to do because we wanted to be the best,” Lile says. “We wanted to not only have the best products but the best store, too.”
He looks back at pictures of their first day and laughs.
“It’s just really funny to think we thought it was so great. But it was in that moment. … It’s like we had these rose-colored glasses,” he says. “But as entrepreneurs, you always have to remain optimistic.”
Before creating Tantara Farms, the Liles and Williams would gather to talk about business ideas over a meal. It soon became clear that a business venture was sitting right in front of them.
“There’s something that happens across all individuals, all cultures, all people groups. We all eat, we all gather together over a meal and there’s so much that happens in that,” Lile says. “We wanted to be a part of that.”
Products and patience
An aroma of fresh teas and spices wafts through the air inside Tantara Farms, at the Copperstone shopping center. Air-roasted coffee, salts, sugars and herbs line the walls, and a wide selection of olive oils and balsamics fill a tap room.
Creating a diverse product line took time, patience and research to find the right suppliers.
Williams and Lile both covet the names of their suppliers because of local competition. Their suppliers work directly with farmers across the globe to choose high-quality products.
“I want to have the highest quality with everything, so there’s a standard we hold to make sure our vendors have the same standard,” Lile says. “And not everyone has that, so it takes the right person at the right time.”
Tantara Farms’ tea suppliers keep close tabs on the farmers and the quality of their crops, Lile says, and the olive oil and balsamic suppliers ensure the oils are tested and certified before they reach the Springfield shop.
The store’s olive oils come from Spain, Chile and California, while the coffee beans originate from 10 regions across Central America, South America, North America and Africa. Oil bottles begin at $8, and coffee beans are sold for $1 per ounce.
The loose-leaf teas are imported from India, China and Japan – ranging $4-$7 per ounce – and the balsamics mainly derive from Italy. And the spices have flavors that ring true to the Middle East, India and America.
“The heart behind what we do is we know this is a big world. Through technology, it’s becoming a lot smaller,” Lile says. “There are flavors from all over the world that we want to bring here to Springfield and make it a little more easily accessible.”
The popularity of items changes by the season. The coffees and oils do well year-round, but the seasonings and rubs sell best in the summer, and hot teas are most popular in the fall.
The family also air-roasts the coffee beans, which Williams says is uncommon in Springfield. They invested $3,550 for a base model air roaster from Coffee Crafters.
During the air-roasting process, the coffee beans pop and crack, which causes the skin to fall off the bean. The warm air then pushes the skin into another chamber of the coffee roaster. This method captures the true flavor of the bean, he says, because the most common method of roasting includes burning the skin back onto the coffee bean, which creates a bitter taste.
Dustin Myers, CEO of branding agency Longitude LLC, hand-carves utensils from reclaimed wood as a hobby with his young sons. He showed the utensils to Liles and Williams, whom he’d developed a friendship with through the branding firm. Myers’ wooden utensils can now be purchased at Tantara Farms.
“That fits our motif, our heartbeat,” Lile says of Myers’ products. “That’s something that mixes the ingredients for life around the table.”
The Myers family creates spatulas, spreaders, spoons and even spurtles, a wooden stick native to Scotland, for stirring porridge. The pieces sell for $20-$45.
“It’s a little fun thing me and my sons do on the side, and we’ve just been selling them to people we know,” Myers says, noting he doesn’t plan on pursuing a business venture.
Branding and networking
Longitude has worked with Tantara Farms since the beginning.
“They were really trying to figure out their logo and different branding elements,” Myers says. “They carry a lot of different products, and that was a branding challenge.”
The Tantara Farms shop and Facebook page are now laden with the phrase “Ingredients for sharing life around the table,” as well as several logos created by Longitude.
Myers says he helped Tantara Farms identify brand values and clear messaging. He also helped build a set of logos and visual elements for use in multiple platforms.
Tantara Farms generated $100,000 in revenue in 2018 – its first full calendar year – and Williams predicts 20-25 percent growth in 2019.
The self-financed business, for an undisclosed amount, is two years into a three-year lease.
Plans include a larger coffee roaster, a planned $9,500 upgrade, and possibly selling raw honey from a local vendor.
Lile says growth in clientele has been entirely organic.
“When people come into our store, they turn into our friends, and then they keep coming, and they become family,” he says.
His marketing methods include staying active on Facebook and asking customers to follow the Tantara Farms page. But Lile says customer word-of-mouth and networking is the driving factor behind growth.
“I have new people in every single day because their friend told them about us,” he says. “They’re the reason why our doors are open.”
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