Listen to Learn:
Abbi Siler grew up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in an entrepreneurial family. Her mother owned an advertising agency and always encouraged Abbi to parlay her outgoing personality into selling skills. Abbi started her career in digital advertising but became disillusioned and yearned for a change. With her family behind her, she opened a tea shop in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock where she blends her own teas from herbs and dried fruits. She employees her family members and has expanded her business to include local art and unique gifts.
According to Abbi's website, she describes herself as the owner, tea blender, and the spreadsheet weirdo.
Abbi continues about herself thusly," This little tea shop is my dream. Since my college years, I have LOVED tea - preferring it over coffee due to a sensitive stomach, and the lovely concept of taking time for tea in the afternoons.
For the past ten years, I pursued a career in digital marketing & advertising where I was very successful, but not completely fulfilled. After some significant life events in 2016 & 2017, I decided to take time off to really figure out what I wanted to do with myself and who I wanted to be.
At the end of my sabbatical, my mom challenged me to think about what I really wanted to do. She knew I had been working on a business plan for years, but always as a whimsical dream. She knew what the answer was already, and with some major nudging and big pep talks about taking risks, I did it!"(Abbi Siler, about us page).
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[00:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[00:00:34] KM: Our guest today, Ms. Abbi Siler, has done what many persons dream of and taken the entrepreneurial leap by opening her very own small business, Abbi's Teas & Things in the Hillcrest, historic district of Little Rock, Arkansas. Ms. Siler is candid in her online blog about her insecurities and fears about what she loves and what she didn't love about her decade-long career in digital marketing and advertising.
Today, she works with her sister, mother and others to make a welcoming place for people who like tea, reading and other soul-soothing activities. She makes Abbi's tea blends from many of the herbs she grows herself, and has expanded her product line from handcrafted teas, to unique gifts, and local art.
It is my great pleasure to welcome to the table and microphone, a woman after my own heart, the risk taking entrepreneurial Mr. Abbi Siler.
So why are you shaking your head that you don't make all of your herbs? You do too grow herbs? I see them on your porch.
[00:01:38] AS: Yes, I do grow herbs. But in order for me to use them in the actual tea blends, there's actually a whole agricultural process that you have to do, especially if you're shipping over the US. So a lot of times I source my herbs. But I'm the only one in Little Rock that does my own blending or –
[00:01:54] KM: So most of your tea blends and your materials, your herbs come from out of the country?
[00:01:59] AS: Yeah, I sourced everything. There are several different types of tea. So typically, tea is anything that comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, whether that's a sonica or Camilla sinensis sinensis. Then you have tisanes, or what we call herbal tea in the US. So tisanes are anything else. That's your florals, like chamomile. That’s your tulsis, like basil. Tulsi is basil. Rooibos, which is a South African – It comes from a bush, of red bush. It's kind of got a nutty texture. Rooibos is its own type of tea. You've got yerba mate, which comes from South America, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. And that's going to be highly caffeinated. Comes from its own different type of plant, and that has a more of a tribal kind of history.
So you have all these different cultures. And that's what I love about tea, is like everywhere in the world you go has a tea culture of some sort. And it's all different. So like the whole purpose of tea is community and communal like spaces. And so if you've ever been to my tea shop, I don't – Like a lot of people come in and they're like, “Oh, I wanted to have high tea.” Well, I do cozy tea, because not everyone wants to have a high tea experience.
I have lots of Asian customers, I have lots of Middle Eastern customers, who their traditions and their culture are not high tea. And so it's really important to me that like all of those cultures get represented and respected without being appropriated. And I think that's really important.
[00:03:43] GR: And you’re like the only tea house in Little Rock. So you got a lot of bases to cover.
[00:03:46] AS: Yeah. Right? So I just make it like my house. So like the whole shop is decorated. Like you're coming into my living room and you're having a cup of tea with me, because there's nothing more intimidating in tea, especially if you have lots of questions and you've never maybe tried anything other than English breakfast. You might walk into a place like Starbucks or something and be like, “I really want to try that matcha latte, but I don't even know how to ask how it should be made.”
So I think like a space like mine makes it a little bit more approachable where you can come in and ask those dumb questions, if you will, which there is no dumb question when it comes to tea. Because, again, tea is supposed to bring people together. And so anyway, I could talk about tea all day.
[00:04:30] KM: Well, good. We've got a whole hour. We're going to talk a lot about them.
[00:04:33] ANNOUNCER: Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 in our state, Abbi's Teas has re-implemented her COVID protocols at the store on Kavanaugh in Little Rock. She's setting up her tea stand outside the store, weather permitting, and certainly you can still order tea online on her website. Check her Instagram @teasandthings, and her Facebook page, Abbi’s Teas & Things for the latest developments.
[00:04:56] KM: Abbi, before we talked about finding Abbi's Teas & Things, let's get the little history of your family and your career. Where did you grow up?
[00:05:03] AS: So I grew up in coastal North Carolina, specifically the Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk. Most people know the Wright brothers’ first flight. Manteo, North Carolina is actually where I kind of consider like home.
[00:05:17] KM: Your mother is Mary Jane, and she was an entrepreneur.
[00:05:19] AS: Yes.
[00:05:20] KM: What did she do? I could not quite get a grasp of that.
[00:05:23] AS: Yeah. So she owned her own business. I literally watched her do advertising promotion. So like you know how businesses have like their logo and stuff, like key chains, or mugs, or whatever. In the 90s, the Internet didn't exist.
[00:05:41] KM: It was advertising specialties.
[00:05:43] AS: Yes, exactly. And her company's name was Solutions. And she had this cute little office. She had two cute little offices. The first one though was in Manteo. And that's where I had my very first entrepreneurial experience where I sold pogs out of her –
[00:05:57] KM: What are those?
[00:05:57] GM: Oh, pogs. Weird collectible thing from the early 2000s.
[00:06:03] AS: Yeah. No. The 90s. They’re milk caps. So they're like milk caps. So they had like little designs on them. Like you might have Sonic the Hedgehog, or like, Bart Simpson, or Disney characters. And then you had Slammers. And it was a game. So like you collected your pogs and like you'd play with other kids with your slammer, and whatever got flipped over the other person could take. So you're constantly like – Your collection is constantly changing.
[00:06:30] KM: It's like Pokemon cards. You collect these things.
[00:06:31] GM: That’s exactly right, because they were popular at the same time. You either collected Pokemon cards or pogs. Yeah.
[00:06:37] AS: Or pogs. Yeah.
[00:06:38] KM: And so you sold them?
[00:06:39] AS: I sold pogs. I got in trouble at the elementary school for selling pogs on the playground during break.
[00:06:44] KM: You’re a natural born entrepreneur.
[00:06:47] AS: And evidently, I didn't know this. But the kids were using their lunch money to buy their pogs. So my pog game on the on the playground had to stop. So mom let me set up shop in front of her office. And so I had a little after school business. That's the first. I still remember her teaching me how to do inventory, like ordering. Like when I got low on like the Disney pogs or like whatever.
[00:07:13] KM: Your father, rest in peace, had a big influence and been a guiding light in your life. What did your father do for a living?
[00:07:19] AS: He was in food sales. So he was in and out of restaurants. So before me, before I existed. Before me. Before I was born, he owned a couple of different franchise restaurants. And then he decided to go more into the food sales part. He worked for Cisco, I think, almost 20 years. And then he worked for Genets, which is another food distributor out in North Carolina. But yeah, food sales. So I was in and out of the backs of kitchens from a very young age.
[00:07:52] KM: Yeah, all this sounds perfect for what you ended up getting into Abbi’s Teas. Did you go to college?
[00:07:57] AS: Yes. Williams Baptist College.
[00:08:00] KM: What did you major in?
[00:08:00] AS: Actually, I have a degree. People don't know this. This is a fun fact. I have a Christian ministries degree with an emphasis in missiology.
[00:08:10] KM: In what's?
[00:08:11] AS: Missiology, which is like missions.
[00:08:14] KM: Well, you are on a mission. No wonder you love your tea. You do have kind of –You probably listened to a lot of people confess in your teashops.
[00:08:23] AS: Yeah. It's actually still pretty true to who I am. Because when I would go to school, I told everybody I wanted to own a restaurant and change people's lives with my restaurant. And what's really funny is my husband's youth pastor, when we started dating, my senior year of college, I went home to meet the parents and the youth pastor. And he lives here in Little Rock and in Hillcrest. And the week that I opened, he saw me out in the yard doing stuff with the sign people. And he was like, “Oh my gosh! Abbi Siler?” And I was like, “Yeah.” He's like, “You're doing it.” And I was like, “Doing what?” And he was like, “I remember that dinner when you came home to meet the parents, you told all of us that you wanted to open a restaurant. And this was like 15 like years back.” And I was like, “I can't believe you remember that?” And he was like, “Of course, I remembered. And I thought it was just so neat.” And I like got goosebumps. I was like, “Oh, full circle. Somebody remembered that of me like when I was younger,” because my story kind of gets lost along the way. Like I don't really take that route right after college.
[00:09:30] KM: When did you come to Arkansas?
[00:09:32] AS: Well, that's a trick question. I've been bouncing back and forth between North Carolina and Arkansas since I was a kid.
[00:09:37] KM: How come?
[00:09:39] AS: Because I love it both. My dad's family – So my parents divorced when I was in high school. Well, I guess, technically, freshman year of college. And dad went back to North Carolina and mom stayed in Arkansas. But we grew up in North Carolina all the way until I was ninth or 10th grade. And then we moved to Cabot. And then I went to school at Williams. But in the summers I would go back to North Carolina and wait tables because it was good money on the beach. It was a seasonal job. And I had an internship by day and a wait job by night.
[00:10:11] KM: And you met your husband at college, and his family's from Arkansas.
[00:10:14] AS: Yeah, they're from Northeast Arkansas, Forrest City.
[00:10:17] KM: So you ended up here. You're very kind of candid in your blog about self-esteem issues. This is really refreshing and helpful to many of your readers. Why are you so open about everything? Now that I kind of know you, I think you couldn't possibly not be.
[00:10:33] AS: That is the truth. I am an overshare person. I love to talk. For a very young age, I was told I talked too much. But I think it's important to share ourselves. I spent a lot of my life, I think, in the corporate world where that being vulnerable and maybe being a hard corporate gal climbing that ladder. I think that I put myself in that box for a really long time and I lost sight of like who I was. And I just really try to be very intentional not to lose that again.
[00:11:15] KM: Yep. All right. This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Ms. Abbi Siler, founder of Abbi's Tea & Things located in Little Rock, Arkansas’ historic Hillcrest neighborhood, and online at abbiteas.com. We'll be right back.
[00:11:30] GM: You're listening to up in your business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. In 2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years. If you'd like to sponsor this show or get involved with any of Kerry McCoy's enterprises, send an email to me Gray, that's email@example.com. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com.
[00:12:04] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I'm speaking today with Ms. Abbi Siler, founder of Abbi's Teas & Things in Little Rock, Arkansas’ historic district, and online at abbiteas.com. Before the break, we talked about Abbi growing up in North Carolina, coming to Arkansas a lot, about her mom being an entrepreneur selling specialty advertising products. I actually sold those for a little while myself. And about you going to college and getting a degree in – What's your degree? Divinity? No.
[00:12:37] AS: Yeah, Christian ministries with an emphasis in missiology.
[00:12:40] KM: I think that’s cool. And I think that really plays into who she is now and how she lives her life. Starting your business, you said, right before the break, too, that you were in the corporate world. Tell our listeners what you were doing.
[00:12:54] AS: Yeah. So right out of college, well, even in college, I realized that the Internet was going to be kind of a big deal. I was the very first blogger for our campus. I actually wrote the petition for our campus to get Facebook. I got those 100 signatures for Facebook. Because before, what we know is Facebook now, it was only for college campuses. And then you had to petition for your college campus to actually be on there. And we were a small private school. And so like we weren't going to get there unless we had enough students say, “I want it and I'm going to use it.” And so I was the organizer of that. I don't know how I feel about that 20 plus years later, because Facebook's becomes something very different than what Facebook once was. But nevertheless, I taught myself how to do web development when I was a teenager. I had a little Yahoo! GeoCities like a little HTML flash website in like the mid to late 90s, early 2000s. And then I kind of just kept with that.
And so I had taught myself how to use social media for businesses. I was there when Facebook Pages actually became a product that Facebook offered, like I helped train other businesses how to do that. And so once I got out of college, I kept pursuing that and then turned it into my other business. It was Local to Social, which was a little blogging SEO and social media consultant thing that I did. I worked with Arkansas State University. I worked with a small business technology development centers and did classes. So yeah, I just kind of made that my career path. And then that slowly evolved into real salary, health insurance.
[00:14:42] KM: Who were you working for?
[00:14:45] AS: My most recent job before the tea shop was a Stone Ward downtown.
[00:14:50] KM: An advertising agency.
[00:14:52] AS: Mm-hmm, yup. And I was their Director of Digital and Social Media.
[00:14:59] KM: That's a tough business.
[00:15:01] AS: It is a tough business.
[00:15:02] KM: changes constantly.
[00:15:03] AS: Changes constantly. Clients change constantly. And also like, it's a very competitive industry not just at Stone Ward, but anywhere in advertising is a very competitive thing. And when you're a young up and comer with maybe a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and a little bit of too much confidence, because I was in my 20s and early 30s, I learned a lot about myself and who I was becoming and who maybe I didn't want to be.
[00:15:36] KM: Was there something an event that tipped the scale and you said, “That's it. I'm starting my own business.”
[00:15:41] AS: Well, my dad passed away the year after I left Stone Ward. But, honestly, Stone Ward was such a good experience for me because it was kind of like I had reached this pinnacle. I really admired Millie Ward and Larry Stone. Millie was on my radar for a long time in the advertising community in Arkansas. She has made such a name for herself. And I looked at her as such a mentor. And so I felt like I had finally like gotten there.
And some of the projects we were working on was like for Baptist Health, but also like the US Soccer team during the Olympics. I got to work with our Chicago team on like that kind of project. So it was just like a really pinnacle point for my marketing career. I was teaching at Arkansas State University in the College of Business as an adjunct for marketing management. But I was really sad. Like, I was stuck in meetings, most of the time. I was more in like a paper pusher role versus like that teaching thing. So my level engagement was more with my internally and like the people I worked with every day. And much less like, actually, I don't know, tangibly doing things. And I gained a lot of weight. And not just there, but like at previous advertising. So it's kind of like a slow build.
And then when I got to Stone Ward, I just really realized like, “Wow! This isn't what I want to do.” And my dad got really sick very quickly. He had always had heart problems. He was diabetic. But during that year, my sister was diagnosed with diabetes. My dad started having really bad health problems and heart problems. And that was really overwhelming to me.
I remember, at Christmas, the year before I put my resignation in, I was sitting on his couch at Christmas in North Carolina. And I was literally just like hammering away at this like PR plan that we were doing for a client in Texas. And it was one of those realizations that I was like, “Wow! This is a really great job and a really great opportunity. But is this what I want to do with my life?”
And so I was really honest, and talk to Millie about it. And she was super supportive. In fact, she set me up with a nonprofit after I left to do contract work. So I mean, I cannot speak any more highly of that company. They were very supportive of that transition. And then after a year, my mom was like, “So what are you going to do? Are you going to put your resume out somewhere? Is it time to get back in the game?” Because dad had passed away that year in July and I was like, “I just – I don't know.” And she's like, “If you could do anything, what would you want to do?” And I was like, “I just really want to do my tea shop.” And she was like, “Well –” This was like December, beginning of December. And she was like, “Well, why don't you just look around and see like what's available? Like let's see what that looks like.” And literally, that next weekend, the space that I'm in right now came open. And so I called it. I saw it on Craigslist.
[00:18:55] GM: What?
[00:18:57] AS: So I called the number and met with the owners who happened to be Old Mill Bakery here in town over off of Markham. And we figured it out. And we were open in February. Like that happened in December. We were open in February and haven't looked back.
[00:19:13] KM: So there was no event that happened. It was just a slow burn until finally you see your dad passing away and you're like, “Is this all there is? I've got to do something.”
[00:19:21] AS: Yeah. And I should say too, like a big part of my story. Tea has always been a part of it. Like I had a little like tea blog that I would write reviews for different tea companies. I did lots of copywriting for international tea companies that maybe needed help with translation or like needed their site optimized. And so I use some of that skill set to like get them to send me free tea. And then I'd write reviews for the tea. And so it was like just this nice little symbiotic relationship. And so I had been doing that since like 2010.
[00:19:52] KM: Tell us about the first week.
[00:19:55] AS: The first week?
[00:19:56] KM: The very first week?
[00:19:57] AS: Of the tea shop?
[00:19:57] KM: Of the tea shop.
[00:19:59] AS: Oh, incredible.
[00:19:59] KM: The first thing.
[00:20:00] AS: Well, it was raining. It was the rainiest February ever.
[00:20:04] KM: What year is this?
[00:20:04] AS: This was 2017. And it was very rainy. So it had rained for like 10 days all the way leading up to the grand opening. And then it rained for another 10 days after that. It was just like constant rain. But it was wonderful. I remember on like the second or third day, this little girl named Evie walked in the door and she said, “Wow! This place is inspiring.” And then she like wrote me a letter that hangs literally in my tea shop on the door behind where I stand at the register that said something along the lines of, “ Dear, Ms. Abbi, I'm so glad that you moved to the neighborhood.” And she spelled the word especially wrong but in like the cutest like way a six year old can spell it. And just how inspiring my shop was for her. And it signed, “Sincerely, your tea friend, Evie.” And like my first week was like that. It was like just tons of just like adorableness.
[00:20:58] GM: Well, I feel like if you owned a tea shop, like what an affirming thing to happen. Like know you want a cozy tea shop, all these cozy things happen.
[00:21:07] AS: Absolutely. I mean, I don't remember. I'm sure it was stressful. But I mean, I just remember just being elated the whole time.
[00:21:17] KM: Not disappointed.
[00:21:18] AS: No.
[00:21:19] KM: We're scared?
[00:21:21] AS: Yes. I'm a very type A person. My mom is more of the freebird. My dad, I think, floated between us both. He was a little bit more rigid, I think. But mom's always been like fly by the seat of your pants. If the doors open, go for it. And I'm more of like, “Can we have a spreadsheet for this? And like what does that look like for the next three years?” And also I'm like emptying out my 401(k)s to do this. And it's stressing me out.
[00:21:47] KM: Is that what you did?
[00:21:48] AS: Yeah. I bootstrapped myself. And then I also worked out an agreement with my grammy. I pay her back. So I took a little small family loan out from my grammy. And I still pay it back every month. So, yeah.
[00:22:03] KM: They say that's the best place. If you want to start a business, the best place to get your money's from friends and family that believe in you.
[00:22:11] AS: Yeah. And she actually was kind of nervous about tea because she's a coffee person, one. But two, that hadn't existed here before. And so a lot of us were just like, “Well, is it going to – I mean, it's cute on paper. But like is this going to fly?”
[00:22:28] KM: I keep talking about how cute your blog is. It is. You are very open and candid about human frailties. And I read this, “I flipped the page for today's journal entry in dad's journal. This one was written to me on this day 14 years ago. Abbi, the servant heart lies in you and I am so proud of the way you show this trait. I love you so and will always be beside you in spirit even not in the flesh.” And then you write, “Another reminder. My heart is the heart that makes my father proud.”
[00:23:01] AS: Yeah.
[00:23:03] KM: So, 14 years ago, he didn't even know he was sick yet.
[00:23:06] AS: Mm-mm. My dad was a big writer. And when he passed away, I was fortunate enough to get his journals. And he also was a big card writer. And so I think that one actually – No. That was the journal entry. Throughout his – He had like his at most – His at most for his highest, or my at most for his highest. It's a Bible study kind of thing, devotional, a daily devotional that has like a journal space and then like a little devotion in it. And so that's where he would journal. And when he passed away, I got several of these journals. And he would write specifically to me like prayers. Like they were kind of prayers to God, but like intentional to me. And I don't know if he always wanted me to have those, or if I just ended up with those. But, yeah.
[00:23:56] KM: Sweet. All right, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Miss Abbi Siler, founder of Abbi's Tea & Things in Little Rock Arkansas’ historic Hillcrest District, and online at abbiteas.com.
Still to come, the different kinds of teas and their healing properties. Where Abbi gets her tea blend inspirations, although she says its secret. And how Abbi creatively and optimistically navigated the 2020 year of the pandemic. We'll be right back.
[00:24:25] ANNOUNCER: We've got great news from the Dreamland Ballroom. Dancing into Dreamland is back for the 11th year. That's right. 11th annual Dancing into Dreamland happens on February 12th, 2022. They're changing up the formula a bit with a Valentine's gala right there in the Dreamland Ballroom. Don't worry, all the things you love about the longstanding fundraiser are still in the mix, a real night of revelry in the centenarian structure culminating around a friendly dance competition, food, drink, a silent auction. Attendees will have the pleasure of viewing several spectacular dances. And varying genres will fill the night. You'll be able to vote for your favorites via text. It's a very fun evening, Dancing into Dreamland. And not the least important thing is it's a terrific fundraiser for this extraordinary historic venue. A panel of celebrity judges will pick their favorite act, and they'll be awarded a special cash prize. Dancing into Dreamland is back, February 2022.
Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 in our state, Abbi's Teas has re-implemented her COVID protocols at the store on Kavanaugh in Little Rock. She's setting up her tea stand outside the store, weather permitting, and certainly you can still order tea online on her website. Check her Instagram @teasandthings, and her Facebook page, Abbi's Teas and Things, for the latest developments.
[00:25:46] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I'm speaking today with Miss Abbi Siler, founder of Abbi's Tea & Things in Little Rock, Arkansas’ historic Hillcrest District, and online at abbiteas.com.
Before the break, we talked a little bit about how you started your business, about your parents. But now we need to talk about what a day at Abbi's Teas looks like. Your sister visits on Fridays. Tell us about your sister, Jessica. And your mother has a sign on her door, because I guess she's no longer an entrepreneur for herself. She works for you. And on her door she says, “My boss calls me mom.”
[00:26:22] AS: Yeah, she does.
[00:26:23] KM: So cute.
[00:26:25] AS: What's really funny is she brought that I think probably three or four months after we first open. And we got tickled about it because it was so funny. But my grammy was like, “I don't know how I feel about that.” And we just laugh about it. Because, honestly, it's not like that at all. And mom does still do consulting. She works for the – Well, she works for several different things. But her biggest thing that she's been working on this year has been the Arkansas Governor's Award. She does a lot with that, with the State Chamber. And then she has several different clients, some in Searcy. And she does business consulting kind of stuff, helping them write business plans or maybe apply for loan. She's done some grant work. She also worked for YMCAs, like helping them fundraise if they were ever going to like open a new location, which is a lot of what she did to out on the Outer Banks when we lived there.
And so she has her own little career. And she's only there – Mom is there on the weekends to help me with like large groups. And then Jessie, we've moved her day after COVID to Thursdays. But yes, Jessie, she prefers to be called Jessica. So I should call her Jessica. I can't break the habit, because it's Jessie always for me. But Jessica is a special needs adult, and she is joy incarnate.
[00:27:53] KM: You can tell. You can look at her face and tell. She is joy. She just emits joy.
[00:27:56] AS: She is. And she is so delightful. She often will take her shoes off in the middle of the floor in the front room and take a nap. So sometimes if you wander in on a Thursday afternoon that she's had too much, you will find her snoring lightly on our front couch. She is exactly who she is, and is so confident in that. It's been wonderful to watch her grow into the woman that she's become. She has a fiancé named Donald Wax. And they are in love. And she will tell you that. And there's a picture. She'll show you his picture on the wall. She likes to give the tour and tell you about the local art that's hanging in the tea shop. And she also enjoys talking about Young and the Restless. So if you are a fan of The Young and the Restless, or you haven't watched in a while and just want to get the latest skinny, she knows all about it and she will bring it up.
[00:28:50] KM: So where did she meet Donald?
[00:28:52] AS: She met Donald at a workshop. So during the rest of the week, she actually has a job with ADD, which is adult disabilities kind of company that gives them jobs to do. I don't ever know what she's working on. But they have projects like helping other small business. Sometimes it's like packing rubber bands, or sometimes it's labeling things. So they also do like career development. So like the reason we moved to Thursdays is because they have a day where they all cook their own lunch. And so they're teaching them how to basically live on their own and also maybe how to apply for a job.
[00:29:31] KM: Does Jessie live with your mother?
[00:29:32] AS: She does. She does. And so does Donald. And so –
[00:29:36] KM: Oh! Her boyfriend does too?
[00:29:37] AS: Mm-hmm. Yep.
[00:29:38] KM: Well, you mom is pretty hip.
[00:29:39] GM: Fiance mother. Fiance. Yeah.
[00:29:41] KM: Your mom is pretty hip.
[00:29:44] AS: She is pretty him. She’s pretty much the best mom ever. And so a day in the life just depends on the day you come in, but one of us is always there and sometimes we're all there. And we're having a good time. We really don't do the hustle and bustle of the coffee shop. Like tea takes time. It literally hangs on the wall above the kitchen. And it takes time to steep a proper cup of tea. And so slow your roll, friends. We’re here and we're just having a happy play.
[00:30:11] KM: Oh! How nice to slow your roll. I’ll tell you. It’s just getting faster and faster and faster and faster. What do you think is your biggest strength in running your business?
[00:30:22] AS: Put me on the spot. I can talk really well. I mean, I’m pretty chatty. I mean, because engaging with customers is definitely not hard for me.
[00:30:37] KM: I think your passion for tea is your biggest strength.
[00:30:39] AS: Well, thank you. I am very passionate about tea.
[00:30:43] KM: What do you think your weakest? Where you could use improvement?
[00:30:47] AS: Oh, golly. I know for a fact that I have my ways of doing things. I have my ways of doing things. And don't interrupt my process.
[00:31:00] KM: Was there an unexpected surprise when you started your business? Something you were like, “Ooh, that didn't work out on the spreadsheet. I didn't know that was going to happen.” Like right in the first week.
[00:31:11] AS: I mean, COVID. Hello?
[00:31:14] KM: Oh, gosh!
[00:31:14] AS: I mean, we were going in. We were starting our fourth year when – No. Third year. Yeah, because we just celebrated your four. So yeah, I mean, things were good. We were going up. We had had just had a really great Christmas. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, coming out of year three. We're going in hot. Things are up.” And then COVID hit and it was like, “Oh, okay.” I mean, I had a lot of plans. Like mom and I had just started talking about hiring like an actual part time employee that wasn't in the family to like allow both of us to have some more freedom. We've been up since we started and COVID happened. That’s probably been the biggest curveball.
Now, that being said, I do my own blends. And there are all kinds of ideas that I've had that did not work well. One of which was dried cantaloupe. Just let me tell you. Don't ever do it. Don't ever do cantaloupe.
[00:32:16] GM: Cantaloupe tea.
[00:32:17] AS: Cantaloupe tea. Yeah, cantaloupe is my favorite. And I was like, “I need a cantaloupe tea.” No one has a cantaloupe tea. And I can do it. Oh No. No. No.
[00:32:26] GM: There is a reason why.
[00:32:27] AS: There is a reason why.
[00:32:27] KM: What do you do? What did you try to do?
[00:32:30] AS: Well, I dehydrated cantaloupe, and it smells awful. It smells like rancid. I don't know how to tell you what it smells like, but it's awful. Don't ever do it. And it also does not taste like cantaloupe once it's dehydrated, which is very common. Like when you dehydrate watermelon, for example, it actually tastes kind of like a vegan beef jerky. It's very salt – Like there's a high salinity. It's kind of salty with like a sweetness to it. But cantaloupe does not do anything right.
So then I was like, “Okay, well, just drying the cantaloupe is not going to work. So maybe I should do freeze-dried cantaloupe.” Have you ever had freeze dried foods? This is like astronaut food. Okay. So freeze-dried strawberries worked pretty well. But freeze-dried cantaloupe is also nasty. So no cantaloupe tea.
[00:33:23] GM: I think it would work. Like we're drinking watermelon tea you brought now. I think cantaloupe and watermelon –
[00:33:28] AS: Totally. Yeah. No. Don't do it.
[00:33:32] KM: So let's talk about your tea combinations. Do you need certifications to be a tea blender?
[00:33:38] AS: No. I mean, there are them. There are them. They exist. Okay. I have a very elbows on the table relationship with tea, because I think that a lot of the snobbery around tea comes more from a Western civilization perspective. Tea was never intended to be snobby.
[00:34:01] KM: You said that the beginning there's the cozy tea and there's the high tea. And you like the cozy tea.
[00:34:05] AS: And high tea is great. Don't get me wrong. But there's already people doing it here in Little Rock. And like Capitol Hotel has an incredible high tea. If you've never done the high tea at Capitol Hotel, please do it. Treat yourself. It is incredible. But I also think that there's like an unapproachablenes about that too. And so I don't know. So you can be a tea sommelier.
[00:34:29] KM: Really?
[00:34:30] AS: Yes. And there are certifications and costs lots of money. But I already have a very intimate relationship. So they're only going to be teaching me things that I already know. And I'm not saying that I know everything, because I learn stuff every day. I learned about a new route today from a customer that I'm going to have to go check out. And I can't even remember how to say it. It starts with a G. But it's a mix between ginger and cinnamon. And I was like, “Oh, fascinating! I've never heard of that before.”
So I mean, it's not like I've learned everything, but I'm just not going to spend my time doing that when I don't know that it's going to really improve my business or bring in more revenue. I mean, I don't know. I just –
[00:35:08] KM: What's your current favorite blend? Well, we're drinking watermelon. You brought us water.
[00:35:12] AS: Yeah, the watermelon rose is the house favorite right now. That's like the popular iced tea.
[00:35:16] KM: It’s beautiful.
[00:35:17] AS: Thank you.
[00:35:18] GM: Very refreshing.
[00:35:18] AS: Yeah. That's the hibiscus that gives it that color. Yeah, hibiscus.
[00:35:23] KM: Oh, it’s not the watermelon and –
[00:35:25] AS: The watermelon is dehydrated, but it doesn't give a color off. Well, if it gave one, it'd be like a really, really, really pale pink. But the hibiscus is what gives it the color. And then you got rose in there. But my personal favorite right now is probably my basil mint. I love earthy stuff. And so for my blends, I actually tend to drink more the classic Chinese Japanese teas like gokuro, and shincha, and genmaicha.
[00:35:57] KM: Is it hard to learn all those names? You have said so many unusual words today. At beginning of the show you said – I don't even know what –
[00:36:04] AS: Sencha?
[00:36:05] KM: Yeah. And Senche or something? You're using two different –
[00:36:08] AS: Oh, sinensis. Oh, Camellia sinensis versus Camellia sinensis sonica.
[00:36:12] KM: Yes. It sounds like she has a list. But I don’t know even know what all it is.
[00:36:16] GM: Taxonomic names.
[00:36:17] AS: Yeah, that's the scientific name for the tea plant. But those are just words in Japanese and in Chinese. And so if you're into tea, you kind of catch on. Don't get me wrong. I have to go in like check myself on how to pronounce things too. And I get lots of feedback on that. So I mean, I'm not afraid to own when I'm like saying something wrong.
[00:36:40] KM: How many different teas do you have in your place do you think?
[00:36:43] AS: Probably over 40 different blends.
[00:36:46] KM: How long do they stay fresh?
[00:36:47] AS: Oh, yeah. So the loose leaf teas, if they don't have dehydrated fruits in them, stay for two to three years. If they have fruits in them, that's when you have to like watch them. But still it's like a year. Depending on the fruit, like apples, for example, you can keep that bag of tea probably for like – Or orange peels, for example, two years. But like the dehydrated watermelon, I usually recommend like drinking that before the before next summer, because it's dehydrated. So like fruit can go bad even if it's dried.
[00:37:21] KM: So a hot tea be turned into a cold tea and vice versa?
[00:37:25] AS: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. So like I sell the watermelon rose, for example, loose. And I have lots of customers who steep it hot and keep it in the winter and drink it hot. But like to make it cold, you basically make a concentrate just like you would with like a bag, like iced tea that you would buy from the grocery store.
[00:37:42] GM: Lipton.
[00:37:42] AS: Yeah, exactly. It comes in like a larger bag. You just use like double the amount and you make a concentrate and then you cut it with water and stick it in the fridge.
The biggest misconception about making iced tea is adding ice to the hot water right away, because that waters down the flavor.
[00:37:59] KM: Unless you want to.
[00:38:00] AS: Yeah. And then I also sell the tea jugs. So if you just don't want the hassle of trying to figure out how to brew iced tea, just come by it by the jug.
[00:38:08] KM: Oh, you do?
[00:38:09] AS: Yeah. Sell those every Saturday.
[00:38:11] KM: Can you drink too much tea?
[00:38:13] AS: Yes, actually. You can.
[00:38:15] KM: You can drink too much water I just found out not too long ago.
[00:38:18] AS: Yeah, you can drink too much of anything. And like, for example, like yerba mate, in that culture, that's something they drink all the time. It's like a gourd they carry all the time. And they drink lots of it. And they're constantly pouring hot water in it. And it's like a cultural thing. Like do you have your gourd with you? And like they've had some studies about yerba mate, specifically in Argentina, that people who drink it every single day, seven to eight cups a day. I mean, that's a lot of tea. You can get esophageal cancer because like you're drinking too much and like it starts – The temperature matters. I mean –
[00:38:58] KM: You could drink too much coffee? I drink too much.
[00:38:59] AS: Yeah, drink in moderation.
[00:39:01] KM: Some of the tea say no caffeine. How can you have tea with no caffeine?
[00:39:05] AS: Yeah, that's the tisanes. So, yeah. So tea is anything that comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, whether it's a sonica or sinensis. And then anything else, tisanes, or as Americans like to call it, herbal or herbal tea. And so anything that has no – And Rooibos is also considered a tisane because it doesn't have caffeine. And that's a South African tea. Or tisane if you want.
[00:39:29] KM: Which are continent that you prefer your tea from?
[00:39:32] AS: Oh, that's hard.
[00:39:35] KM: There's only seven.
[00:39:35] AS: Well, but I mean, all the different types of tea have such a different – Like have such different meanings. Like chai, for example. Like I love that in the fall. There's nothing more wonderful than like a warm milky cup of chai. But at the same time, like I tend to drink more greens, whites and oolongs. Like if you're looking at what I'm drinking at the tea shop, it's usually a sencha or maybe an iced matcha latte or –
[00:40:02] KM: What’s a white?
[00:40:02] GM: I was just about to ask her. I drank it before. What is it? Is it a peony? Is that right?
[00:40:07] AS: Yeah. Well, poeny is bai mudan, which translate to white peony.
[00:40:12] KM: Is that like the flower?
[00:40:14] AS: Peony. Okay, like the flower Yeah, but it's not. It's from –
[00:40:16] GM: Same family?
[00:40:17] AS: So, no. It's from the camellia sinensis plant. It's the way that it's oxidized gives it a very floral fragrant flavor. And so that's what they call it is bai mudan, because it's a more floral white tea. And then there's silver needle, which is more of like a honeysuckle, very delicate. Has like little fine hairs. So the white teas – So black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong, they all come from the camellia sinensis plant, but they're all oxidized or dried different differently.
And then within each one of those, like in black tea, you have Chinese black teas like Yunnan, or you have pu’er, which is like a fermented black tea. You have Darjeeling, which comes from West Bengal. You have Ceylon, which is Sri Lankan black tea. And then in green tea, same thing, there's all this diversity in green tea. You have Japanese steamed dried green teas. You have –
[00:41:14] KM: How do you decide? How can you decide what you want to drink? I mean, you go to the grocery store and you look at him right there and you're like, “Okay, that one makes you sleep. That one makes you awake. That one makes you [inaudible 00:41:26].”
[00:41:27] AS: Yeah, yeah, that's a question. So when people come in and they're like, “I have no idea what to do with this big menu you have.” Usually I start with a couple questions. So you asked what a day in the life is. And when you walk in I say, “Can I make you a cup of tea? Are you here to shop?” Because that tells me am I helping this person find something on the shelf? Or am I helping this person pick out a tea?
And then I usually say something if they're having a cup of tea and they're confused or they don't know what they want. I'll say, “Okay, caffeine or no caffeine?” And you choose. And then I'll say, “Okay, fruity, floral, minty, spicy? Spicy as in basil? Spicy as in cinnamon? Spicy as in ginger?” And usually I can like narrow in to profiles. Yeah. And then if they want to be adventurous and they're like, “Ooh, what do you want? What's your favorite?” Then I'll give them something weird, because I love weird teas. Yeah, like mushroom chai.
[00:42:23] KM: And so they just stand around and drink in your shop? Or they get it to go?
[00:42:28] AS: You can do both. So I do to go. But I also have a little dining room where you can sit and have a scone or you can have a little pastry. We also have salads and sandwiches. And then we have a patio area. So right now we're still in COVID time. So I've kind of expanded the number of tables on my patio for anybody who wants to still sit outside.
[00:42:48] KM: I didn't realize your shop was that big.
[00:42:49] AS: Yeah. So it's shaped like a U. When you first walk in, there's like a little living room area and then there's the cash register. There's loose leafs on both sides of the wall. And then if you go down the hall into to the left, there's a little gift shop area where I sell tea pots and like tea accessories, tea gifts. And then the dining room is on the other side. And it just like is a big left turn. Like you just make one big left turn all the way through the shop.
[00:43:14] KM: And you have salads?
[00:43:15] AS: Mm-hmm.
[00:43:15] KM: Or you can sit and have tea and read a book.
[00:43:17] AS: Absolutely. I love it when people come and sit and have tea and read a book.
[00:43:20] ANNOUNCER: Due to the recent surge in COVID-19 in our state, Abbi's Teas has re-implemented her COVID protocols at the store on Kavanaugh in Little Rock. She's setting up her tea stand outside the store, weather permitting, and certainly you can still order tea online on her website. Check her Instagram @teasandthings, and her Facebook page, Abbi’s Teas & Things for the latest developments.
[00:43:45] KM: Are there medicinal properties to tea? Does anyone ever come in and say, “I have a headache. Do you have a tea for headache?”
[00:43:50] AS: Yes, there're tons of medicinal properties of tea.
[00:43:54] KM: Do you know them?
[00:43:55] AS: Yeah. Well, it's a lot. It's very broad. So are we talking about tea, like specifically camellia sinensis plant? Or are we talking like hibiscus flowers? Or chamomile? Because if you came in and you told me you had a headache, I would not actually recommend a caffeinated tea. I would recommend an herbal blend. Probably a chamomile-based one, because chamomile is really good for headaches. Hibiscus is really good for like blood sugar levels. It's good for your heart.
[00:44:23] KM: Do people come in and tell you medical problems and say, “Can you give me a tea for that?” And that makes you kind of a healer or a medicine man on top of being a tea –
[00:44:32] AS: But here's the thing with that though. There's such a culture out there about like teas and medicinal remedies. I'm very careful to remind people that I am not a doctor. And also every kind of medicinal thing, even if it's tea or supplements, is like literally to supplement an actual like care program. So like my dad drank tea often when I was younger. He loved hibiscus. He had heart issues. And his doctor recommended him, “Get off the coffee, get off the sodas, and drink teas.” And so he switched to green tea for his caffeine, which has L-theanine. L-theanine is a different type of caffeine than what's found in like the coffee bean. So it has a slow release in your blood system. And so you don't get that afternoon crash like you get from like a cup of coffee. So it's a scientific thing. Like it's a different type of caffeine.
But then like if you're having, for example, if you're having skin problems, like lavender and Rose is really good. I have a lavender rose blend that you can actually sip and then you can sprinkle it into your bath water, because it's really good. And it smells good. Smells good too. And it turns your water pink.
[00:45:47] KM: Alright, let's take a quick break. When we come back, it'll be the conclusion of our interview with entrepreneur Ms. Abbi Siler, founder of Abbi's Tea & Things in Little Rock, Arkansas’ Hillcrest district. We'll be back after the break.
[00:46:00] ANNOUNCER: One of the most popular items in the inventory at flagandbanner.com are pennants. You can really put the festive in your fall festival if you use pennants. There're wigglers, there's colorful string pennants, there's American flag pennants, fun string pennants, racing pennants, commercial string pennants, all kinds of uses for him to. And right now, for 10% off site-wide at flagandbanner.com, just use the coupon code FF10. Flagandbanner.com 10% off site-wide with the coupon code FF10.
[00:46:34] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Miss Abbi Siler, founder of Abbi's Tea & Things in Little Rock, Arkansas’ historic Hillcrest district, and online at Abbiteas.com.
So we've talked about your family. We've talked about starting your business. We've talked about – Gosh, teas. There's so much to know about teas. But you left this digital career in marketing and advertising and you went over here for a simpler life and the cozy tea world where you can practice your ministry to lots of people, because you love people. So now the COVID crisis has happened. And you're like, “I got to go back to digital marketing.” Did you start selling more online, because that's how most people survived?
[00:47:22] AS: Yeah. So that's a really funny question. Because when I first opened the tea shop, I went ahead and like had an e-commerce portion of my site. Because you just can't have a small business without that. But I only had like five or six of my blends on there. They were like my best sellers. And I really just did not put a whole lot of effort into it. Because, honestly, I was so trying to break myself of like these digital habits, checking my email 24/7 and answering client messages on Facebook or whatever. And I was really trying hard to just have a brick and mortar.
But when COVID hit, I was very thankful for my background in it because I got it all on there. I SEO’d tagged all of those products and wrote the product descriptions and did my thing. And, yeah, we have now shipped everywhere in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. And I have some interest in like international shipping mostly from military bases and things like that. But yeah, the website in itself was another part of how I survived COVID 100%. I really leaned hard into my social media marketing in the last year in terms of just daily posting, making sure people knew what was going on when the tea stand was going to be. Obviously, the tea stand is very weather dependent. So doing online promotions, free shipping promotions. So I was really glad to have that background in my back pocket.
But I will say that I fell right back into habits again, because many consumers also were locked down and locked in and bored. And so there was a big push. Like you had to be on all the time. And someone wanted to message you about something on your website at 11:13pm.
[00:49:20] KM: You answer that stuff.
[00:49:21] AS: I struggle with anxiety and depression. I talk about that very openly on my blog, on my social media. And so being attached to your phone is like really hard when you struggle with those things.
[00:49:34] KM: I'm telling everybody should go read your blog. I think it's cute. It's really charming. Well, I write a blog every week. So I relate to you. You write one like every month, I think, or every couple of weeks.
[00:49:41] AS: Yeah. And I haven't written one since February. I've been really bad.
[00:49:45] KM: Oh, girl. You are bad.
[00:49:46] AS: I’ve been really bad.
[00:49:48] KM: Go write one about coming on the radio show. What's the future? What do you want to do next with Abbi's Tea?
[00:49:53] AS: That's an interesting question. So I'm not like most entrepreneurs in this. And I always want to be behind the register my shop. So does that mean we'll always stay in the same location? Maybe we'll grow to a bigger location? Not sure. Probably not anytime soon. But I don't have any like goals of being – I don't want to be in a grocery store. No. No. No. My teas will not be grocery store tea.
[00:50:16] KM: Do you ship out of your place? UPS comes over there and picks up your –
[00:50:21] AS: I actually go directly. I have a very great relationship with my USPS, Miss Donna over at the Hillcrest Postal. And we got to be really close during COVID. And so I walk my packages down there, and I handwrite my labels. I mean, you could probably get some discounts. Actually, no, you can. But I like just the beauty of all that.
[00:50:41] KM: The simplicity of it.
[00:50:42] AS: Yeah, and also just the small business, I really think about going back to your roots. And I just think that bigger is not always better.
[00:50:51] KM: That's right.
[00:50:51] AS: And I'm not interested in growing so big that I don't get to talk about tea every day with the seven year old who comes in and says, “This is inspiring.” I want that for the rest of my life.
[00:51:06] KM: If you get big, you end up not working in the business. You end up working on the business. I like working on the business. After 20 years, I got so burned out of working in the business. I was ready to let somebody else work in the business and for me to step away and grow my business. What advice would you give in a want-to-be entrepreneur listening to the show?
[00:51:24] AS: I think probably what I would say to this question would be be yourself. And if you know who you are, no one can steal that from you. No one can recreate that from you. No one can try and replicate. I mean, they can try, but they're not going to. Because if you put yourself into it, and it is a passion, then that's really hard to take away.
[00:51:51] KM: And on that note, I want to say thank you. We got to gift for Abbi.
[00:51:54] GM: It’s that one right there.
[00:51:55] AS: Oh, fun!
[00:51:56] KM: Oh, I should have given you a North Carolina flag. It's a US and an Arkansas desk set.
[00:51:59] AS: Oh, that’s okay.
[00:52:01] KM: I'm going to bring one by Abbi's Tea.
[00:52:02] AS: I would love that. I have a gift for y'all too. I brought your tea.
[00:52:08] KM: Oh! Yay!
[00:52:09] AS: And there's hot teas in there. So, yeah.
[00:52:10] KM: I think I got the better end of the deal of that. And in closing, I want to say to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, we'll help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[00:52:32] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you'd like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.