Sharing her specialty

Owner of T. Tea Bar talks about success in the tea biz

Shelly Blanshei

Shelly Blanshei

Photo By ken smith

After achieving a certain level of success, it’s understandable—even expected—for business owners to kick up their feet and let a business run. This is obviously not a philosophy embraced by Shelly Blanshei, who, with her husband, Lance, owns Chico’s T. Tea Bar and Fusion Café.

Though the tea bar and eatery has about 40 employees, on most days Blanshei can be found at the restaurant working in the trenches next to her kitchen and wait staff, even dressed in the same black uniform and always with a smile on her face.

T. Tea Bar and Fusion Café offers a huge range of specialty tea drinks served frosted, frozen, sparkling and steaming. They also serve fresh-made “fusion fare” from a menu centered around build-your-own wraps and bowls. The deceptively simple menu offers delectable toppings (i.e., cracked pepper London broil, roasted ginger lamb, hoisin barbecued salmon) over a choice of grains or salads with choice of dressing; a handful of items that can be combined into countless unique combinations.

“We wanted to take tea and break all the rules with it,” explained Blanshei. “We wanted to make it fun and accessible, to serve the drinks in barware and have tea tenders instead of bartenders. We also wanted to have great, fresh-made food.”

Both Blansheis are Bay Area natives who attended Chico State, moved away for a while, then moved back to settle down and rear their two children. The couple originally owned Bidwell Perk, which they opened in 1996 when, Shelly noted, there were only three coffee shops in Chico.

Shelly said Lance, who also works as a marketing consultant, had the idea for a tea bar even before they went into the coffee business, but the idea might have been too far ahead of its time. Instead they waited a few years before starting a brand of tea products called Teaz Me, the store’s original name when it opened in 2006.

“By then, tea was where coffee was around the time we opened Bidwell Perk, before Starbucks was just starting to get people familiar with coffee. The knowledge of and demand for tea has definitely gone up in the eight years since we opened,” she said.

A chance visit by the CEO of Whole Foods several years ago led to the Blansheis working with the chain, which opened its first store patterned after T. Tea Bar but called The Tea Hive in Newport Beach last year. Shelly said more are in the works.

Today, T. Tea Bar does brisk business from the lunch hour until well into the evening. Though much of its success is due to well-done execution of a novel concept, Blanshei also credits the community that provides its customers and work force.

“The key to our success over the years has always been the people we hire,” she said. “It’s really fun having a business in a college town, where you have these awesome young people who come from all over the place. They really make this store everything it is.”