By Josh Hinkle
Originally published on Advocate.com July 06 2012 1:07 PM ET
Swimming in shark-infested waters has helped gourmet tea entrepreneurs Shane Talbott and Steve Nakisher brew up a business expansion.
As a result of their appearance in the latest season of the reality competition show Shark Tank, Nakisher and Talbott, partners in life as well as business, have seen their Talbott Teas company become part of Jamba Juice, promising a much larger market for an enterprise that started as a tea bar for clients of the pair’s Chicago hair salon.
“Being on the show is one of the scariest things we’ve ever had to do,” says Nakisher. On the ABC series, entrepreneurs make a pitch to the millionaire “sharks” in hopes that the latter will bankroll expansion of their business.
While Talbott Teas has many of the characteristics the sharks find desirable — it’s a growing business with room to expand further and popularity among big-city consumers — Nakisher, 41, and Talbott, 38, got an offer from only one shark, venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary. Afterward, though, O’Leary worked with fellow sharks Daymond John and Barbara Corcoran to craft a bigger deal, with Jamba Juice. The teas will soon be available at Jamba Juice locations as well as all the other outlets that have carried them, and Talbott, a certified master tea blender, has become Jamba Juice’s vice president of innovation, developing new tea flavors and related products.
Talbott Teas, which will retain that brand name, currently has 23 varieties. The loose-leaf teas are all-natural and organic, from certified fair trade growers, and are blended with fruit, flowers, herbs, and spices. Both caffeinated and caffeine-free teas are available, and they are free of preservatives or artificial colors and flavors.
The acquisition by Jamba Juice represents a big step up from Talbott Teas’ unpretentious origins, although it’s not the first time the company has gotten a boost from television. Nakisher and Talbott met 15 years ago in Chicago, which is still their home base, and four years into their relationship opened a hair salon on Oak Street, an upscale shopping thoroughfare on the city’s fashionable Near North Side. Talbott, a hair colorist, decided to bring his other passion into the business, creating a tea bar so patrons could sample his homemade blends. It became a big hit.
“His clients were loving it, and he was giving clients little baggies to take tea home,” Nakisher says, laughing. “I said it looks too much like drugs.”
Nakisher recommended a different type of container, so Talbott designed attractive packaging, now described as museum-quality, for the teas, which he called Talbott Teas. The brews were such a success that the two decided to close the salon and focus on the tea business. The company quickly expanded, selling its products in Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, and select Whole Foods stores. Then, in 2010, a big name in media came calling: Oprah.
“She put us on her ‘favorite things’ show, which obviously changes the course of any business and instantly puts you on the map,” Nakisher says. “It’s kind of like winning the lottery for a business person.”
Oprah’s endorsement brought new customers to Talbott Teas — actually, more than the entrepreneurs could handle, and they had to start turning business down. “We had an instant, huge boost in sales for online sales, and then we also had retailers, a lot of retailers, reaching out to us saying that they wanted us to be part of the retail,” Nakisher says.
The two partners needed more capital to help them meet the growing demand, so Nakisher and Talbott applied to participate on Shark Tank and were selected. The rest is history. Like their experience on Shark Tank, their relationship has been blessed as well. Partners for 14 years, the two men married in a 2004 ceremony in downtown Chicago.
After the aquisition of Talbott Teas, Jamba Juice CEO James D. White called Shane Talbott a “visionary trendsetter” and described the Talbott Teas products as a good complement to Jamba’s smoothies, juices, and other tasty but healthy offerings. The teas are expected to be available in Jamba Juice stores before fall.
For his part, Talbott is pleased with his new gig as vice president of innovation. “It allows me to focus on what I’ve always loved to do, which is to develop new teas, new products. I don’t have to worry so much about all the other pieces of it,” he says. “I really get to just do what I love.”