Today we’d like to introduce you to Connie Lacobie.
Hi Connie, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I became friends with several volunteers at Ten Houston Villages Houston, and we found we had a common interest in tea, and an enthusiasm for fair trade products. Thus we started our plans for opening a quaint tea shop with a focus on fair trade, organic, and small farm teas, along with healthy food items. We launched are speciality blends to a very appreciative audience at the 2005 Houston International Festival. The theme that year was India, and our masala chai was especially a hit! After a long search for a shop location, we finally settled on an abandoned laundromat building in Montrose, and opened our cafe in March, 2006.
Té House of Tea quickly became a gathering spot for the local Montrose crowd, musicians, artists, and writers. Our walls were a gallery to local artists, rotating on a monthly basis. Several customers said our small place had “musicality”, and asked if they could host dances there. Thus began the Friday night tango milongas and Saturday night fusion swing dances. We were a tea shop, a cafe, a community center.
After a decade, though, the long hours of standing every day took a toll on me, so I decided to sell the shop. Sadly, I could not find a suitable buyer, so the shop itself closed on December 24, 2015. I retired to focus on my online and wholesale business, still supplying my favorite blends to local shops around town. Our teas can be found on the menus and shelves of a few cafes, but also used in recipes and bartender blends by more.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Contrary to many small restaurants, we were able to operate with positive – albeit small – margins after just a couple months. We were happy to not struggle financially (another venture, though, a larger restaurant called Sauté, was a bust, we ran out of money for it after just 7 months 🙁 ). A small shop (just 1700 square feet), though, is more a labor love than a huge profit center! We didn’t aim for a luxury, high-price point customer base, but we were happy with the hip, diverse customers who did frequent our place, and appreciated our modest prices.
I guess our biggest struggle along the way was workers. We did have lots of great employees, enthusiastic, creative, fun youngsters who I remain friends with today. But, we’ve had some challenging workers too, that can sometimes take an emotional toll.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Professionally, I was educated as an accountant, and worked several years in various accounting roles, from internal auditor at a bank to bookkeeper at a non-profit organization. Presently, I still do some accounting work for Plant It Forward, another Houston-based non-profit organization. After running Té House of Tea for ten years, I did gain a lot of confidence as a cook, and I am most proud of the virtual cooking shows I’ve been doing the past few years, both as a volunteer for Plant It Forward’s farm share members and the YMCA. I love to learn more, so this year I am going back to school! I will be learning about herbal medicines, with am aim to become a certified apothecarist.
Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
I grew up in Hong Kong! Such a crowded, busy city, I grew up riding trams and ferries, walking hilly streets, shopping and eating in street stalls, and wandering through small bistros hidden in alley ways. I celebrated both East and West traditions, enjoying traditional Chinese celebrations such as Lunar New Years and Mid-Autumn Festival, as well as Christmas, Easter, and other colorful western holidays. If you met me as a kid, perhaps you would think I was studious. If you asked me my secret wish, it would be “to run my own business!”
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