What was meant to be a brick-and-mortar tea shop in Nixa was derailed by black mold, leading to the creation of distributor and wholesaler Bahati Tea Co. After a year in business, the company has products in five area stores and a growing online presence.
Briana Johnson, co-founder of Nixa-based Bahati Tea, says she and business partner Andrae Jones had planned to open a store called Tea Time in Nixa. They bought a building and were renovating it when black mold was discovered, and the project halted in October 2019.
“The wind just got knocked out of our sails when we found out the building wasn’t going to be a go,” Johnson says. “We had sunken so much money into that business, into that particular location, that we were thinking of throwing the towel in. We were like, ‘How can we start over?’”
After rallying, and going through a brief mourning period, the two switched gears and Bahati Tea was born as a distributor of loose-leaf tea blends. The name Bahati means “lucky” in Swahili.
Brewing up business
By November 2019, Johnson and Jones were rolling on their new business plan. Johnson began creating the tea blends they would pitch to local stores from a small office in Nixa.
Her first stop was Well N Good Health Market in Nixa and a conversation with owner Scott Snyder.
“The No. 1 priority for us is supporting our local area and the local businesses,” Snyder says. “If we’ve got a spot on the shelf where we can put them, I generally bring them in.”
Johnson quickly brought Bahati teas to the store and did a tea sampling for Well N Good’s customers. Snyder says the product was a hit. The health store now sells seven of Bahati’s teas and orders the product wholesale on a monthly basis.
“Folks sometimes are a little skeptical to try something new, but once they try this product they’re sold,” Snyder says. “You can taste, see and smell the quality of this product.”
Bahati Tea sells 12 original tea blends, each handcrafted by certified herbalist Johnson to create unique flavors and maximize the benefits of the herbs and spices. For instance, she adds lavender and valerian to chamomile tea in her Lavender Dreamz mix to promote sleep. Retail prices online range $10-$25 for 4- or 8-ounce bags.
Following the Nixa store, Johnson struck deals in Springfield with Jamaican Patty Co. and MaMa Jean’s Natural Foods Market LLC. MaMa Jean’s stores sell four types of Bahati Tea in its bulk section, Johnson says.
Selling in five retail locations within a few months was a big jump for the brand-new business, Johnson says, but she wasn’t stopping there. Bahati Tea also sells on the company’s website, which has allowed an expansion of the customer base into multiple states. Online customers can get 15% off tea purchases through a monthly subscription.
The company still sells about 70% of product locally, Johnson says, declining to disclose company revenue.
The company’s Double Spice Chai was featured in the November/December 2020 issue of TeaTime Magazine.
“The tea company is here to stay,” Johnson says. “The business is to the point where it has been able to pay for its own bills. It’s not to the point yet where I feel like we’re making a profit, but it has been able to sustain itself.”
“Now, we’re in a position where we’re ready for exponential growth.”
Johnson is looking into selling Bahati Tea products to larger markets via a distribution company – potentially wholesale distributor United Natural Foods Inc. (NYSE: UNFI) because of its focus on natural foods and support of minority and women-owned businesses, she says.
Breaking into larger distribution would require scaling the company’s operations to the point it could fill larger orders. Currently, Johnson mixes, packages and ships all of the company’s orders on her own from the company’s space in the Empire Office Suites. Her business partner is active in the U.S. Army and is not currently living in Nixa, although the two equally share ownership.
The company also would need to upgrade its labeling to standards required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a process she’s currently working on. The FDA requires inclusion of nutritional information, ingredients and food allergens on package labeling.
Johnson also is pursuing a grant for minority-owned businesses from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Bahati Tea would receive up to $20,000 through the SNF Small Business Growth & Recovery Fund if awarded the grant, which she says would help in pursuing large-scale distribution.
Johnson also plans to launch a YouTube channel called Behind the Teas and establish a program called CelebriTeas, partnering with social media influencers to create unique tea blends for them to promote in exchange for 20%-30% of the sales.
“I’m hoping this will be a great way to cross-collaborate between different media and help people understand a little bit more about the values and core that we as a community have,” she says.
Johnson is full of ideas: expanding advertisement of the website, bottling the teas in liquid form, partnering with local breweries to pair the teas with alcohol and selling company merchandise.
She credits the company’s first year of success to the quality of the product, the growing popularity of teas and the business connections she has made in the area.
“I can’t stop this now. There’s a lot of people behind me now backing me and supporting me,” Johnson says.
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