While COVID-19 has pushed many small businesses to the edge, it hasn’t dampened the entrepreneurial spirit for those who believe in fighting for their dreams. That’s why we’re investing the technical assistance, know-how, and resources to help get these businesses moving forward. This past August, our team made a special visit to Brooklyn on our first official Back2Business grant award stop. We presented our Back2Business grants to three minority-owned small business merchants. In this post, we introduce one of the three grantees: Brooklyn Tea.
Jamila McGill and Alfonso Wright started dreaming about opening a tea house when they were first dating. “Becoming a couple, we went on a lot of tea dates and tea hopping,” Alphonso said. “We really wanted a place where people could come have a moment of solitude and solace.” That dream became Brooklyn Tea and is known as a place where artists gather, books are signed, and anniversaries are celebrated. It’s also the only tea shop in the area.
By February 2020, they had nine employees and the highest revenue of any month since they’d opened in 2018. They were building a reputation in the local community and across New York City when the pandemic hit and their newfound success came to an abrupt halt.
As a local, seeing COVID-19’s impact on Brooklyn and businesses like Brooklyn Tea particularly resonated with Frank. “We came to Brooklyn first. My heart was bleeding through what was going on. I was watching what was happening in the boroughs. If you grow up in Brooklyn, you understand it’s a people place.”
Jamila and Alphonso are fighters. As soon as the shutdown started, they turned to social media to stay connected to their customers and took advantage of offering online sales and ordering before they were able to re-open the doors to the Nostrand Avenue tearoom. Jamila says Clover has been an important part of their digital journey, “It perfectly matched up with our online platform and helped us navigate online sales in a very convenient way.”
Their digital presence is what allowed them to offer an Immunity Box with herbal teas that boost the immune system and improve respiratory function. That pivot also allowed them to keep staff employed and business moving when the tearoom was empty.
Jamila and Alphonso plan to use their Back2Business grant to hire two to four part-time employees for a new second shift, so they can increase capacity to fulfill orders while keeping employees safe.
The ability to expand, evolve, and stay connected to customers is what Back2Business is all about. As CEO Frank Bisignano told Jamila and Alphonso when he presented them with the grant, “Even more important than the grant is our ability to help you think about how to serve this community, how to promote Brooklyn Tea, and help you build a business for the long term.”
Read our introductory post Getting Back2Business for a broader look at the initiative, why we’re doing it, and how to get involved.