Inca Tea officially opened its first cafe at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on the busiest travel day in the nation on Wednesday, November 26th, the day before Thanksgiving. The beautiful store was designed, fabricated and installed by new, local firm R/S Design.
“The first week was good. It hit all of our expectations as far as the amount of people we wanted to reach. We sold tea to people in Connecticut, Oregan, Colorado, etc. These are people that have never heard of Inca Tea but they had a cup of tea at the cafe and then went on my website and had the tea sent to their house. I would have never been able to reach those people unless I was in grocery stores in their neck of the woods, and that’s gonna take some time,” says North Royalton native and Inca Tea Founder/Owner Ryan Florio.
“I wanted to hit a demographic that wouldn’t normally see my teas everyday,” says Ryan. “At least people in Cleveland can go to Giant Eagle Market District, Mustard Seed, Heinen’s..and they can get my teas and taste my teas at different samplings. But somebody in California or New Mexico or Arizona that might be in Cleveland visiting family or friends or here on business, and they see Inca Tea in the airport and they have a chance to try this amazing blend, ya know it kind of sparks their interest of being a lifelong customer because of that.
“The whole premise of Inca Tea is that I traveled to Peru and I hiked the Inca trail. So the whole premise of my tea is based on travel and experiencing something new and different, and I figured the airport would be the best backdrop for that.
It was just a little over two years ago when Ryan hiked the Inca Trail with friends. Inspired by his guide on the hike, Ryan returned home and spent the next 23 months developing the blends, the packaging, the marketing and officially launched the business with 4 tea blends this past February. The goal was to be in 50 grocery stores within the first year, however, Ryan has largely exceeded that number in just 10 short months.
Inca Tea currently has distribution in over 200 stores and in the next couple of months is expecting to sell in close to over 300 or 400 stores. The company will also be introducing 2 new tea blends, totaling the offering to 6 available blends…all of this happening tight around their one year anniversary.
“It’s a lot of hard work..I’m working 14 to 16 hours a day. I eat, sleep, talk, drink Inca Tea all day long,” Ryan explains. “I’m out promoting it every sing day. It’s really important to do in-store demos and tastings as much as possible. It’s really hard to change people’s buying habits but if you give them the opportunity to try something new and if they like that new taste, they can become a lifelong customer. People like to support local, but it’s a really good tea that tastes good. It’s all natural, no artificial flavors, no added sugars, non-GMO, some of the ingredients are organic and I think people like that.”
Studies have shown the that purple corn, a main ingredient in Inca Teas, helps with joint inflammation, diabetes and weight loss, prevents certain cancer cell growth, is great for your cardiovascular system and has more antioxidants that any other fruit or vegetable on the market. This purple corn is only grown in Peru, which is where Ryan imports all of his corn. It’s a 2,000 year old recipe and is genuinely from the Incas. Everything else is made here locally.
“I want to keep everything made here locally,” Ryan says eagerly. “Most of the big tea brands outsource all of their manufacturing and production to China, which is one of those double-edged swords…it makes the price point lower for them and the consumer at the end of the day, but at least here I have full control of what is going [in] the teas. I have full control of the packaging and manufacturing and I like that. I like being able to say that my stuff is made here in Cleveland. The boxes are made in Cleveland, I hand blend at my parents and they stuff boxes for me. I like that and it’s nice to be able to say.”
Ryan just hired his first full-time employees and expects to hire three more before the end of the year. He started an internship program five months ago and has had several interns from regional Ohio colleges and universities, including Kent State, Baldwin Wallace and Cleveland State to name a few.
“I didn’t have a budget of half a million dollars to start a company,” he says. “I started out by cashing out a 401K, taking a second mortgage out on my house and quitting my job. And I’m not making money hand over fist. I still haven’t taken a paycheck yet, but I believe in the next year I will be able to do just that. It’s a lot of hard work and I don’t think people realize that. People see that I’m in a lot of stores and I’ve got a lot big name brands supporting me but I’m out every day working. Even with the cafe now, I’ve putting in 14 hours at the cafe and in between I’m emailing customers back and trying to get some new accounts and making appointments for some in-store demos.”
Seems like all the hard work, hustle and grinding will pay off with the opening Inca’s first airport cafe. “If all goes well, I’d like to be in maybe 10 airports by the end of next year,” Florio says. When we start selling all over the world, our world headquarters are going to be here in Cleveland…I’m not leaving.”