Chabom Tea and Spices is the antithesis of a coffee shop.
The quaint, 800-square-foot store on Commercial Street is filled with hundreds of teas, spices and gifts designed to make customers pause from their fast-paced lives.
“Tea culture is a lot different than coffee culture,” says co-owner and restaurateur Joe Gidman. “Coffee is more of a fast-paced, get-up-and-go, and tea is more of a stop and reflect kind of moment.”
Chabom, which means “good tea” in Portuguese, opened in 2015. It carries over 150 loose leaf teas, including oolong, matcha, herbal and jasmine. Customers also can order a cup of tea, brewed as it’s ordered, which Gidman says enforces a slower-paced experience.
Gidman and his mother, Claire, also own Cafe Cusco, which opened in 2013 influenced by his experiences with Peruvian culture, and the Netherlands-inspired Van Gogh’s Eeterie that started last year. Both are also on C-Street.
“As a kid, a lot of my love for cooking came from my grandmother, and she was an avid tea drinker. When I opened Cafe Cusco, I really wasn’t happy with the quality of spices I was getting from my grocers,” Gidman says. “I thought that if I open this store, I can get my spices in a better quality and bigger bulk and better price.”
He says acting as his own supplier lowered his ingredient cost by nearly 60%, and the savings covered the rent for the tea shop.
Chabom generated $220,000 in 2018 revenue, 60% of which is derived from tea sales and 30% from spices. Gidman says 2019 store sales are 18% ahead of last year.
Chabom works with at least 40 local, national and international suppliers. Finding and creating those relationships takes months of research, Gidman says.
He works directly with farmers from India, China, Japan and Kenya for his teas and spices, many of which supply to other major U.S. wholesalers, such as California-based The Republic of Tea. Cutting out the middleman reduces the prices for consumers by about 40%, he says.
Teas range from $2 to $10 per ounce, and customers are able to scoop their desired portions or purchase ready-to-go bags for $2.50. He says customer favorites include the Barbados fruit tisane, spiced masala chai, apricot oolong and pomegranate green tea.
Of the 400 spices in the store, many are available for less than a dollar per ounce. Gidman says pricing changes for e-commerce shopping, which only represents about 10% of sales. But it isn’t much of a priority to Gidman. He’d rather a customer experience the brick-and-mortar store.
Chabom always has close to $40,000 in inventory, and that increases by another $20,000 during the holiday season when Gidman supplies the shop with more gift-related items.
Gifts include teapots from Japan; tea accessories; and locally and handmade jewelry, soaps, pottery, cards and candles.
Some of the local producers in the shop are Askinosie Chocolate, Julia’s Java, Date Lady and Nature Made Botanicals.
The teas and spices aren’t restricted to the C-Street store. Gidman has partnered with coffee shops, restaurants and spas to get his product in the hands of more people.
Springfield-based Mother’s Brewing Co. is an example.
“When you’re drinking your Mother’s beer, nine times out of 10, you’re drinking our spices,” he says.
The vendor partnership started two years ago, says Anne Mauldin, marketing director at Mother’s Brewing. She says the company buys brewing ingredients, such as Indian coriander, lemon powder sea salt, grapefruit peel and cinnamon to make such beers as Cobra Scare, Mr. Pumpkin, Paloma Gose, Raspberry Tart Gose and other sours.
“We try to partner local whenever we can, and (Chabom’s) price and quality of ingredients beat our people we usually work with,” Mauldin says, referencing California-based Starwest Botanicals and Wisconsin-based Penzeys Spices.
For now, Gidman says he isn’t rushing to open another restaurant or store. He says Chabom is on the cusp of where he wants the business to be, but there are a few things he wants to focus on in the next year.
Chabom’s C-Street location is 1,900 square feet, over half of which is storage space. Gidman says he wants to rearrange the layout to offer more private nooks where customers can sit and enjoy their teas.
“I’ve always had the dream of making this more like a teahouse you’d find in Asia, where people do actually come to meet and spend time and talk,” he says. “I couldn’t make my business plan based on that. I needed people to get addicted to the product first.”
Gidman is also focused on improving the company’s business-to-business relationships by branding the teas in more local coffee shops. He’s already working with the newly opened Able Coffee & Provisions.
The shop buys Chabom’s Barbados fruit tisane and chai loose leaf teas. Able Coffee owner Rance Loftsgard says he’s selling at least two gallons of the Barbados fruit tisane tea each week.
“It’s super cost-effective for me as a business owner,” Loftsgard says. “I might be able to go out and find something for cheaper and less quality, but for a small business, when you’re trying to manage cash and maintain a stock of items, I can go to Chabom anytime and restock.”
Gidman also has latched on to the Airbnb services along C-Street. After binge-watching a show called “Instant Hotel” last year, Gidman started preparing baskets with a variety of teas, 10% off coupons and his restaurant menus to put them in the roughly 20 Airbnb properties in the north-side district. He says he’s noted more foot traffic, especially during the summer, and he’s looking to expand to more Airbnb options in the city.
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