by R.J. Fields
Along Broad Street in the VCU area, there are numerous vacant buildings and unused, dilapidated commercial spaces. Richmond’s vision of revitalization includes replacing the blight of abandoned buildings with lines of thriving new businesses. One of the more surprising and innovative new businesses here is Tea-Co Unique Cafe, at 902 W. Broad Street.
Business partners Myra Ceasar, Bonnie Sparks, and Sean Battle opened Tea-Co November 2007. It has already integrated itself into the surrounding communities of Carver, Jackson Ward, and VCU. It isn’t uncommon to see University students and faculty, Carver residents, and even out-of-towners at the shop. After nine months, many say that Tea-Co feels like it has been here for years.
“When we first opened we received a lot of support from the black community,” Myra shared. “We’re a black-owned business and people were excited to see our business on Broad Street. So that initial surprise turned into devotion from the people who came. That devotion is beautiful and greatly appreciated. At the same time, we didn’t want people to come here just because we are a black-owned business. We wanted them to come because we have something unique to offer.”
In a fast-paced age where the coffee shop rules, Tea-Co has carved out its own niche centered around health and community. The trio from D.C. strives to foster a “home away from home” atmosphere, and to invest in the community that patronizes them. The same family-like character found in barbershops and hair salons can be found at Tea-Co. “I love walking into the room and everyone speaking to you. It’s like stepping into your living room,” says Maya Corneille, a regular patron.
Tea-Co’s décor is clean and uncluttered. Art from local artists adorns the walls. “When I first walked in I was struck by the atmosphere. I loved the art and liked that they are supporting and working with local and university artists,” Maya says. “The way things are set up, it has such a communal feel.”
Tea-Co aims to be a holistic commercial venture. “We opened Tea-Co to promote health and wellness through tea,” Myra says. Research has shown that tea has health benefits ranging from lowering blood pressure to boosting the immune system. In addition, tea is packed with antioxidants, which have been linked to cancer prevention.
Tea-Co’s philosophy of promoting wellness extends outside their doors, and into the community. Within the last several months, Tea-Co has organized, hosted, or donated to multiple charitable events including the National HIV Testing Week fundraiser, St. Paul’s Baptist Church, AARP, the Lupus Foundation, and VCU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. They participated in Carver Community Day and donated to Habitat for Humanity’s tea tasting fundraiser. In the front of the shop is a board filled with business cards and flyers for local and independent businesses.
“We always wanted to reach out to different communities and provide people with healthy alternatives to what they are accustomed to,” Myra shares. “Also, we want to continue the education process of exposing people to tea and its benefits. A lot of people associate tea with some sort of elitism, but our goal is to provide affordable healthy alternatives and, even as we grow, keep Tea-Co a place where everyone can come and feel welcome.”
As the city continues its revitalization and moves toward its vision of the future, more businesses will pop up. Tea-Co’s vision of embracing and becoming a contributing part of the community is a model forthcoming businesses might want to imitate.