For our occasional series, Upstarts, we’re featuring entrepreneurs around the state. Our second featured businessman is Eugene Gerow-Mathew, of Eugene’s Tasty Teas, who makes organic teas and proves that you’re never too young to be an upstart.
EUGENE GEROW-MATHEW: My name is Eugene, I’m currently the manager and owner of Eugene’s Tasty Tea Company.
ZHOROV: Eugene has been in business for about three years now. He makes specialty, organic teas.
EUGENE: You’re probably going to laugh at this – it started with a girl in elementary school years. She’s more of a friend than anything, but she was addicted to strawberries, beyond belief. Anything with the word strawberry in it, she would go for, or at least I thought so.
ZHOROV: He wanted to grow strawberries for his friend.
EUGENE: But I was, like, I don’t just want to fill a 20 by 30 sandbox plot area for gardening full of just strawberries. So I decided I would plant some lemon balm and peppermint and I chose chamomile, as well.
ZHOROV: Eugene decided to make tea with the herbs he grew. His first tea bag was held together by duct tape. His second tea bag….
EUGENE:…was a piece of paper stapled on all 4 sides, obviously an undrinkable tea bag but it was a great attempt.
ZHOROV: Since those early days, Eugene’s business has grown considerably.
EUGENE: Now I’m with 9 different flavors. And 2 of them are fruit varieties, and I’m getting more ingredients to put into them each time I make a different flavor…
ZHOROV: Eugene has also grown in that time, to a sage 15 years old.
EUGENE: I’m very into like not the average teenager life kind of stuff.
ZHOROV: His business is easy to transport and so he came by the W-P-R studios to show us how he works…
[sound of bags rustling]
EUGENE: I’m going to make some black raspberry tea here…[ambi] so you can hear me pouring about a cup’s worth of English breakfast into the bowl, …which I brought with me…I really like my setup because it’s really fast and easy setup, all I do is I have this giant backpack that I store everything in….
ZHOROV: After his first, home-grown tea efforts, friends told Eugene that his tea was a little weak. So to grow his business and to guarantee quality, he decided to order the herbs from other growers and focus on mixing flavors.
EUGENE: This is the hibiscus flower, and the raspberries…[sound of bags] So I’m now ripping currently 14 tea bags….
ZHOROV: Eugene fills the bags with the aromatic mixture in the bowl….
EUGENE: And making tea, honestly, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but I mean, and it’s not the funnest job ever, but it’s not very labor intensive, and it’s very easy …I can just do this for hours on end…
ZHOROV: He irons shut a heat sealing tea bag. This time one you wouldn’t hesitate to drop in your cup.
EUGENE: And there you go…one tea bag done.
ZHOROV: Eugene charges $5 for a box of tea containing 14 tea bags. He sells mostly at farmers markets in Laramie, but also has tea at a few cafes and stores in Laramie and Colorado. He reinvests 3 dollars from each box back into the business…When he has helpers, he pays 50 cents per box packaged, but otherwise the rest is profit.
EUGENE: The first year that I officially packaged and stuff, my gross was approximately $2500 and my net was settling about $1000 and this is obviously being the third year, so I’m guessing probably around maybe $2000 now, $3000, something like that.
ZHOROV: A teacher gave him an accounting book to help with book keeping, his dad calls himself by the tongue-in-cheek title of Vice-President of Transportation for Eugene’s Tasty Tea, and a local school donates time in its industrial kitchen so Eugene can package the tea in sanitary conditions and bake – that’s right, he also sells baked goods.
This summer he’ll be expanding to the Cheyenne farmers market, where he expects sales to be significantly higher. But he’s not trying to grow too fast…
EUGENE: I don’t want to get over large like Celestial Seasonings Company or some other company out there…I wanna remain fairly small. I mean if I get fairly large and I’m making a $1 mm a year I would be great and happy but that’s not my biggest goal. My biggest goal is to just make some money off of it, enough money to live off and supply the general public and have happy customers.
ZHOROV: Meanwhile, what does a 15 year old with a profitable business do with his income?
EUGENE: Unfortunately a lot of it has just gone to, I guess you could say, junk. I’ve tried recently to start saving for more expensive things. Like, I’m a very demanding person…I’ve spent over $200 in a day on tropical fruiting plants….
ZHOROV: Until the summer markets start up again, Eugene is taking order for his tea via email. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Irina Zhorov.
Eugene’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.