All Good Things Must Come to an End
by Katherine Burnett
Geoffrey Chaucer made a prediction way back in the 1300s. Somehow he knew I'd be using his quote to write this blog with resigned acceptance but also with optimism for Lady Baker's Tea going forward and onward to more good things!
My Charlottetown Farmers' Market years were such good years and opened the door for a miracle.
I was only a year into my single life after 35 years of marriage. I had relocated to Prince Edward Island but I had not seriously looked for employment yet. Considering my options, I longed to recapture the tea business dream that I started in my previous life in North Carolina. But where and how to begin again? Someone suggested the Farmers’ Market. That was back in the spring of 2007. It seemed like a great way to get started – just one day a week!
Early morning Saturdays would be a piece of cake (I naively thought)! Eight-hour Saturdays would be fun! Sharing my growing knowledge of tea to a whole new base would fulfil and satisfy that emotional side of me that was still in the self-pity stage.
All I needed was an application form and a bit of luck.
The vendor waiting list was long and I understood that preference was given to farmers which made perfect sense. Roger was the market manager back in the summer of 2007 when I applied for a booth. He suggested I be patient!
I filled out my product list for the board’s approval - loose leaf specialty teas, both liquid and bulk and tea accessories. With little hope of making much of a profit with just tea, I added cookies and scones to fill out my product line. I practised patience for a couple of weeks. I nudged Roger with an apologetic phone call that I was sorry to bother him but was there any openings for a tea bar yet. He wasn’t rude, but he did infer a bit firmly that I not call again. He would call me if a space opened and if the board accepted my application.
Finally, December 1, 2007 was the date given to me for a new beginning as the Tea Lady of the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market. Lady Baker’s Tea Trolley, once a catering service in my previous life, was now incorporated as a Tea Bar on a mini scale like David’s Tea in the big world!
After taking a tutorial through a wholesale tea company, I started with 17 teas that covered a range of four types of tea - black, green, oolong and white. I also had a couple of familiar herbals. I had to update my old logo, choose display tins and décor for the space allotted me which was some pretty good real estate right on the corner of the main entrance of the market.
Having attended a tea seminar earlier that year when the inventor of the Affinitea Tea machine demonstrated his amazing tea brewer, I did make the huge and expensive decision to introduce it at the market with my selection of teas. In pretty quick time I had to hire a carpenter, a plumber and electrician…necessary expenses and the first of many when taking a leap into the world of small business ownership.
Market neighbours were fantastic. June Ellen (The Hearth) was right beside me and was the gracious donor of her once extended booth. She didn’t need all that space, after all. And she was one of the original vendors of the market and was so helpful when I felt dazed which was more often than I expected. I learned the art of bartering when we swapped one of her amazing cowboy cookies for a glass of iced tea!
I don’t know why I was so surprised after a few weeks to find that there were many folks as interested in tea as I was. I found myself constantly sharing my knowledge and in turn, learning from folks who asked a lot of questions and told me their tea experiences. Wow! This was truly fun! I didn’t always know how to respond but I followed up as best I could with research to have answers for my growing clientele. My base was growing and so was LBTT!
Help! I needed help! Two would have to fit behind my counter.
Along came Shannon, a music student and voice major who became my first employee. She dubbed me ‘LB’ (Lady Baker) and I christened her my ‘tea girl.’ Even today, after 15 years, we address each other as we did then. Shannon is still with Lady Baker’s Tea, with the exception of taking time off to get married, have a baby and support her husband in medical school.
I learned I was eligible to get student grants especially for the summers. I also learned it was not easy to find reliable student help for all kinds of reasons. But over the years, as I needed a second hand at the market, I found many wonderful young folks (Willow being the most frequent) who kept me updated on the latest in fads (and fashion), especially in what students liked for beverages. It was important that I not be too ‘old’ in my tastes, being a straight-forward tea drinker myself!
Willow, Ting Ting, Chelsy and Ky kept me hopping. When students were in short supply, Jen and Jan would step up.
LIFE CAN BE FUNNY WHEN YOU'RE DEAF
There were lots of funny moments at the market! Most were due to my hearing loss which required some interpretation from my assistants. At one point, my Chinese student, Ting Ting said at the end of a long market day,
“We’re awesome!” I raised my hand to give a high five as I returned,
“We are, we are awesome!”
TingTing looked confused and spoke a bit louder and clearer. She said,
“I asked, where’s the washroom?”
Another silly memory was when a young gal asked me, “Do you have any orange-flavoured green pickle tea?” I hummed and hawed and reluctantly replied after madly going over her words in my head to make sense of them,
“I'm sorry but I have no green teas that taste like pickles.”
I could tell by the look on her face that I totally mis-heard that one! Jan approached and clarified, “She’s wondering if we have any orange dreamsicle flavoured tea. Evidently, she must have had that at another tea bar!
Needless to say, I have learned to have a good laugh at myself.
Then there was Gerry, a regular senior who liked a blend of Assam and Ceylon. We’d see him coming and start to prepare. We called it the Gerry-atric special and featured it for others to try!! He always had something amusing to share and I think, actually he liked having a tea blend named after him!
I remember well our ‘pink lady’ Janet from Ontario. She was pink from top to bottom, with hairpiece, lipstick, sundress, sandals and even her mug-to-go! We added some pink rose petals to her favourite Earl Grey tea one day just for fun and she loved it. She’s the reason we have a Pink Lady (Grey) tea blend.
Every Saturday favourite people stopped by the booth...
“Here comes Carla,” I’d announce, and my helper would get a ‘double double’ chai latte started. Carla liked it strong! Carla had toddler curly-haired Ava with her when I first started at CFM. Today both Carla and Ava work for LBT! Alas Ava is off to college this fall. Although I didn't get to work with Ava, I've been the recipient, as a customer of her hospitable manner at the market!
SO MANY FASCINATING HUMANS!
I have said many times since retiring and selling my business, “I don’t miss the running of a business but I really, really miss the people!”
Seeing so many people every Saturday connected me to a cross section of humanity and to the highs and lows that life brings our way. My nearly drained emotional tank filled up with empathy. I gained compassion and joy trickled in! People were divorced or divorcing, loved ones were dying or in poor health, Moms carrying babies in tummy and then out of tummy, knees and hips needing replacing and students worrying about their exams. Celebrating with the graduates was bitter sweet. I would miss them. UPEI and the Veterinary College were well represented at the CFM. Students and profs frequented the tea bar.
It was through the market that the wholesale side of the business started. Axel, of Leonhard’s Café was selling German bread at a booth while simultaneously starting his small café downtown. Coffee was his specialty but often he was being asked for tea. To this day, you can get a really good cup of LBT at the very popular Café.
Renowned Chef Michael Smith with Inn at Bay Fortune recognized the good quality of LBT and began ordering. That was and still is a boost for his business and LBT!
No longer was I working just two days a week baking and selling at the market. The wholesale side of business took off!
NEW IDEAS EMERGING
I developed some retail items like Post-teas (awarded the best new product on PEI) and tea variety packs which required time to assemble.
I’m slightly embarrassed when I look back over my creative ventures. I came up with the clever name for a variety of 6 black teas. I labeled it the Smack Black Pack. It sold really well! I told my son about it and he informed me that ‘smack’ was a slang name for cocaine. He made me promise I would never name a product again without checking with him first!! Apart from feeling mortified, I prided myself in the fact that it was a bestseller!
There are so many hard-working vendors at the market. There’s a balance of farmers, artisans, bakers, hot foodies and in the summer an exciting range of super interesting producers outside. Each made positive impacts on me.
TIME TO SAY GOODBYE
It’s time that LBT gave another up-and-coming entrepreneur a chance. We’re passing the torch of high-quality product presentation so that we can branch out even further with fresh ideas and expand our vision and…take a few Saturdays off!
I am no longer actively involved with the business but happy when Shannon (yes, my first tea girl) asked me to write a blog reminiscing my market experience.
I’ll forever be grateful to the Charlottetown Farmers Market Co-operative. One good thing has come to an end...now Lady Baker's Tea can shift its energy to reaching new places and more good things in the world of tea.
Wonderful story! I first bought your tea at a craft fair at TOSH in Summerside sent some to a friend in Alberta who was an avid David’s Tea drinker needless to say every Christmas she now gets a gift of your tea sent from me,she loves the Christmas tea! Just thought I would share!
I’m glad You had this experience with the market. I forgot about how many years Lady Bakers were a regular feature at the Farmers market. People will miss having a cuppa tea there. Miss You already.
In 2013, I traveled to PEI to celebrate an important birthday. There, I had a wonderful hotel afternoon tea featuring LBTT Lady Slipper tea. I was immediately obsessed and had to take some home to MN (the Lady Slipper is the state flower of MN- something we share with PEI.) The server directed me to the CFM. I arrived promptly Saturday morning and was happy to fill my suitcase and to learn that LBTT had launched a website to sell their teas. Resupply would not be a problem! I will return one day and I will miss you at the market- but I’ll be happy to visit your store. Best wishes-
Thank you LB. I had tears while reading this remarkable piece…happy and sad. The LB tea booth will be missed- as has your lovely smile. You did good.