The history of Local Tea Company continues to evolve. Local Coffee + Tea / Local Tea Company is owned and was founded by Michael Duranko. He grew up in Rochester, New York and studied Chemical Engineering at Michigan State. Somehow Michael went from being a chemical engineer at Morton Salt Company to working for computer magazines in San Francisco and Seattle.
After traveling Europe and Asia for 14 months with his then-wife Tina, Michael authored a book about people’s obsession with shoes [BOOTISM: a shoe religion]. If you ask him about this book, be prepared, it is a long story!! Michael was living in New York and getting divorced. He set his sights on Siesta Key and moved south in July 2006.
It was hot and the economy was booming. It seemed like the perfect time to start a coffee business in Sarasota. Local Coffee + Tea opened in February 2007 in Siesta Key Village. Linda Meylan was on the launch team and Glynis helped to create our first tea menu. The name was originally called Local Coffee when Michael’s mother reminded him “Do not forget about the tea” and so the ‘Plus Tea’. The corporate name is still Local Coffee Co.
Timing is everything, but the timing for opening any business was not good. The idea was to grow our way out of the tough times. So, in March 2007, just one month after opening the Siesta Key shop, LCT purchased three retail locations from Latitude 23.5 Coffee; a café in St. Petersburg, a coffee shop in South Sarasota and the location at Selby Gardens. At the same time we invested in a bakery, the Wired Whisk Bakehouse in the Chili’s Plaza on Tamiami Trail.
Prior to opening, we created the concept or tenets for operating LCT that remain today. That is, to promote local products and services, to protect the local environment, and to celebrate local treasures.
Buy Local Products and Services
We used as many local vendors as possible. Latitude 23.5 Coffee and JavaDawg Coffee are local coffee roasters. Our baked goods were provided by Strudel’s, our bread was from Bavarian Bread and our sausage came from Transatlantic Sausage. We were always looking to add more local vendors.
That said, you could find Michael at Sam’s Club most weeks and that is just a fact of doing business. While we tried to use local businesses, we also had to be a profitable business. We sold Coca-Cola products and Budweiser products and Walmart products as price, and customers demanded.
Protect Local Environments
At every chance, we protect our local environment. We were one of the first 10 businesses in the Sarasota County Green Business Program. When we started at Selby Gardens there was no recycling program, and we pushed to get the trash separated. We are very proud of the recycling that now takes place at Selby. And our team found ways to make good environmental decisions as to how we disposed of things every day.
Local Coffee + Tea had a lot of balls in the air, and many of them ended up falling to the ground. The shop in South Sarasota closed within a year and the café in St. Petersburg closed within two years. the bakery closed shortly thereafter.
A few of our growth initiatives took root. We expanded the café footprint at Selby Gardens and we started sampling and selling loose leaf tea in late 2007. In a tiny space in the Christy Payne Mansion we shared our knowledge of tea with customers. We created Selby Select Rooibos Tea at this time, the first of our teas to celebrate local treasures and still our best-selling tea.
Custom Loose Leaf Teas
Before Selby Select, we created a custom coffee for the eFest event at the Polo Fields at Lakewood Ranch. In early Spring 2008, we created an eFest Tea. In the summer of 2008 we applied for and started selling our teas on Saturday morning at the Sarasota Farmers Market. We added an online shop to our website and started selling tea on the world wide web in November of 2008.
Natasha Adams designed our loose leaf tea packaging. She suggested investing in higher quality tea packets and custom printed labels. The very clean design lines remain today. It was her idea to try the Farmer’s Market, so we have Natasha to thank for getting up so early every Saturday.
In early 2008 we experimented with licensing. We lent our name to a coffee shop opening in an old Texaco gas station on Tamiami Trail. The space was great and we learned a lot about licensing, mostly that we were not ready! The space became Maverick Coffee and then Java Dawg Coffee and then it closed in 2012.
In the Spring of 2011 we created a satellite café within the Lakewood Ranch Cinema. We opened the same day as the Harry Potter movie was released. We found the fire detection was a bit too sensitive when Michael over-baked a batch of cookies and the entire theater was evacuated. The fire department came as a matter of precaution. Yikes!
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Our tea operation moved from the Payne Mansion into the Carriagehouse Tea Room in 2010. It took nearly 3 months for the aroma of Poison Dart Frogs, the previous tenants to dissipate. That is why we always smile when people come into the Carriagehouse Tea Room and comment on how wonderful it smells.
As we spent more time at Selby, we evolved different parts of the business. Our catering and events business grew significantly. We started offering beverages outside of the café during the 4th of July in 2009. We grew our tents and beverage stations during the Garden Music Series, also starting outside in 2009. For Lights in Bloom, we started in 2010 with a tent outside serving hot chocolate, and a variety of different foods, soups, pulled pork. Florida nights can be surprisingly chilly, and we remember Chelsea wearing socks as gloves one night in the tent. We have tried a lot of different things and will continue to try new things as we move forward.
In 2011 the Siesta Key shop was sold to Jen Cortez and became the Local Bean. In 2014 Jen sold the shop to Zach and is now The Bean Coffeehouse. We continue to sell our loose leaf teas to Zach. Guests return each year to visit the Siesta Key shop and then buy from our online shop when they return home.
Our wholesale tea business continues to grow and we now have over 40 accounts selling our teas. Here is a complete list of our Serving Partners . We are always looking to add accounts. We offer well known, delicious loose leaf teas delivered in small quantities, that way the tea stay fresh and inventory stays low.
Our online shop (www.LocalTeaCo.com) also continues to grow and in 2014 we shipped 360 orders, that is, one order per day. We have shipped to every state except North Dakota, therefore, if you know anyone in North Dakota, please ask them to order some tea from us! We shipped 17 orders in 2008 when we started, so we are excited to keep growing this part of our business.
Over the years we have donated our coffee, tea and food to numerous charity events and sampled our teas in many different environments. One memorable Halloween, Michael dressed as Earl Grey and Glynis as Black Rose for an event at Mote Aquarium. Our favorite event was the Ringling in Bloom event at the Ringling Museum.
After many meetings and deep thinking, Ellen, Tray, Glynis and Michael created our Mission Statement in 2013. As a team, we began to write down our routines and recipes to form an organized handbook. Our steps to ‘Great Service’ was drafted and we adopted many other procedures and practices used for years, but never committed to paper. We call it the New LCT.
Local Smoothies + Juice
In 2013 we found an opportunity at LA Fitness and created Local Smoothies + Juice. The idea was to balance our operation in a different location and offer healthy foods. We wanted to create a place for talented people to work in addition to having more resources for events at Selby Gardens or other catering projects.
Local Smoothies + Juice offered fresh fruit smoothies and custom crafted juices. We grew wheatgrass from seeds for wheatgrass shots. Almonds were soaked to make almond milk every day. A limited selection of healthy snacks like Energy Bites, Chia Pudding, Kale Chips, and other dried RAW snacks were available. A holistic health coach created a 3 Day Juice Cleanse that included specific smoothies, juices, teas and essential oils.
In 2015 we sold Local Smoothies + Juice to CROP Juice, becoming the second CROP Juice location of many more locations planned for this successful local business. We loved our customers in addition, to enjoying the wonderful facilities, but decided to focus more on tea and less on smoothies, juices or food.
To say that 2016 was a transitional year for Local Coffee + Tea at Selby would be an understatement. Our business operated as a concession at the ‘Gardens’ and in 2016, Selby decided to put the business out for bid. Our little company enhanced the overall garden experience, for instance during the lean years after the recession and the BP oil spill. But it was time for a bigger company to make a bigger impact in the Selby space.
In December 2015, we turned over the keys of the Selby House Café to Michael’s on East. The café continues to offer our very popular teas, you can find Glynis helping out in the Welcome Center. Michael’s on East now runs the café and is the exclusive caterer for Selby Gardens.
This is a great fit, and the first indication was the renovation/makeover of the Great Room by the Bay. This is probably the most beautiful place in Sarasota to have an event. Now the city’s top caterer offers their exceptional food and services.
We operated the Carriagehouse Tea Room through season, however on July 1, 2016 we said our farewells. We had a great nine years at Selby Gardens and it was time to move on.
Our focus now is on our teas and building a wholesale business. We brought back the name ‘Local Coffee + Tea’ and pivoted to be a wholesale distributor of not only Local Tea Company, but also Java Dawg Coffee, Torani (syrups, sauces and smoothie blends) and Cappuccine (frappe powders).
In 2017 we have more than 90 customers and growing. Glynis still helps with the tea decisions, in addition to Lori helping out with the deliveries. Michael continued to golf more consistently than in the past leading to GolfToons. All of the cartoons are done by Marty Glass and both are trying to figure out how to make a fortune on this side hustle. Check it out and Laugh at the Agony, as they say.
No question the year 2020 will have a unique place in history. Local Tea Company was cruising along and had a wonderful first quarter. That changed in March and continues to impact the entire world. More than ever, the calming effect of a cuppa tea are crucial. As our web sales increased, we re-launched our email newsletter and started posting more on our Sip Locally blog.
We hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Our story continues and with your help, we will keep making history!