Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar Tea Lounge, was interviewed by The American City Business Journals for the feature From Beginners to Bigshots:
By Nathalie Pierpont
Beginners to Bigshots featured Jesse Jacobs and Samovar Tea Lounge in the 2004 edition. Here we catch up on what has happened with the business since then.
With three locations in San Francisco and a growing presence online, Samovar Tea Lounge, founded in 2001, is poised to deliver peaceful living to the masses.
“Our whole focus is on how do we help our customers and people in general get more of what they need, which is often slowing down, focus, calm, reduced stress. We end up really promoting a lifestyle choice,” said Samovar founder Jesse Jacobs.
Customers are soaking up the Samovar lifestyle, indeed. The company’s revenue has jumped to north of $4 million today from $2.3 million in 2008. Even more impressive is that since receiving a $160,000 loan through the Small Business Administration and counseling, training and technical assistance from a local Small Business Development Center in its early days, Samovar’s growth has been organic.
Mary McCue, president and CEO of MJM Management Group, a designer and manager of public spaces in San Francisco, and a regular to the Mission-Castro location, “begged” Jacobs to open a lounge in Yerba Buena Gardens in 2006.
“I wanted tea to be served in on our terrace, and I knew Samovar would do something that would be distinctive to the Gardens,” said McCue. “I was also impressed with Samovar’s commitment to excellence. Most importantly, they are experts at tea service from countries all around the world.”
Once Samovar agreed to open the second location, MJM Management did what it could to help. “As a small company, we didn’t have deep pockets, and they helped make it a viable next step,” said Jacobs. Samovar opened a third teahouse in Hayes Valley a few years later under similar circumstances. Jacobs plans to expand to other cities with the “right partners.”
“Developers and landlords have come to realize that we have a solid business, a solid brand and proven operations, and they see it as a great opportunity to increase the value of their property,” said Jacobs, who attributes his company’s growth to a focus on the customer experience.
Although Samovar still derives most of its revenue from the tea lounges, it is keen to deepen its relationship with customers online. Its website includes a tea emporium for wholesalers and individuals as well as informational posts about different teas and educational videos about the benefits of tea culture. Jacobs’ recent webinar about meditation and the ritual of tea drinking drew 1,500 participants around the world.
“It was a way to reach the entire world with a message about who we are, what we do, and how it can help,” said Jacobs.
Building the Samovar brand on- and offline is part of what differentiates it from Amazon and Starbucks, according to Jacobs. Samovar charges between $5 and $6 for a pot of chai tea — “more than anyone else in the world.” said Jacobs. “And people come back again and again and happily pay for it.”
Nathalie Pierrepont is a freelance writer in San Francisco.