Ever since starting her company Tupelo Honey Teas in 2007, Danielle Spinola has wanted to move her business to Millvale. It’s where she grew up and where her family lives, and the creek that runs through (and sometimes floods) the borough, Girty’s Run, is named for her ancestors.
“People told me I was crazy,” Spinola says with a chuckle. “I always thought of it as a little hidden gem, and always had it in the back of my mind. But it never seemed to be the right time.”
But Spinola was determined, so in addition to running her brick-and-mortar Tea Cafe location in Allison Park, she set up shop at several farmers’ markets in Millvale. Part of the goal was to gain a larger summer audience for her teas and to get to know local officials. And she says Millvale’s drive to revitalize its local economy, which includes improving commercial and retail buildings, cleaning up graffiti and upgrading its green spaces, made her even more certain it would be a good home for her organic, fair-trade tea blending company.
Her persistence paid off. Spinola connected with Scott and Brian Wolovich of New Sun Rising who were starting a food hub incubator called Launch Millvale, and Tina Walker, head of the Millvale Community Development Corp. They helped Spinola settle on her new space adjacent to Millvale Library in the “Imagine” building.
“It’s been a whirlwind of meetings and becoming involved in the community, and we’ve finally narrowed it down,” Spinola says. “There’s a patio in back, and so much potential in this space.”
Spinola, who says she has always preferred tea to coffee, became interested in creating custom tea blends after a trip to China. In addition to blends she creates for her own Tupelo Honey Tea brands, which includes herbals like lemon mint, chai, oolong, and black and green teas, she carries other brands of tea by Market Spice Company, Metropolitan Tea Company and Runa, among others.
She has great respect for tea’s versatility, which she says lets it appeal to many tastes. “When people say ‘I don’t like tea,’ I say ‘you just haven’t found the right one for yourself yet.’”
Tupelo Honey Teas’ first physical home was in the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District, where Spinola learned how little she really knew about what the tea-drinking public looked like.
“When I started the business I had no idea who the customer was; I thought it was women over 35 who liked to knit or crochet and be homey,” she admits. “What I found at the public market was a real kick in the pants. The biggest growth is among young people. There’s no one typical customer.”
She and several of her fellow tea purveyors have formed a local tea association and are planning a Winter Tea Festival. It’s modeled after Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, she says, another community devoted to spreading the word about their favorite beverage.
“When you’re collectively raising awareness about your industry, it really benefits all parties,” Spinola says.