Mark and Vitalia Sotomayor are the son-and-mother team behind Té Amo Tea. Photo by Storybook Studios Photography.

Mark Sotomayor made a killing at last fall’s Living Dead Weekend.

He spent three days in Evans City filling novelty zombie cups with Té Amo Tea, a sweetened beverage based on his Peruvian grandmother’s recipe.

Like the ghouls in “Night of the Living Dead,” customers kept coming back for more.

Sotomayor, a 20-year-old entrepreneurship major at Grove City College, hopes his business will continue to be a monster success.

Since October 2017, the start-up company has sold 6,000 bottles of tea. Brewed with locally sourced, organic ingredients such as cinnamon, clove, anise and black tea, the chai is produced by Sotomayor’s mother, Vitalia Sotomayor, in a commercial kitchen at the Evans City Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.

It’s distributed to nearly two dozen area eateries, including The Black Cat Market and V3 Flatbread Pizza in Lawrenceville and Edgar’s Best Tacos in the Strip District.

But Té Amo’s impact extends further.

For every 12-bottle case sold, Sotomayor sets aside a portion of the profit to pay for planting one tree in Haiti. Six-thousand trees are already growing.

“I thought, ‘Buy a tea, plant a tree’ and it felt right,” Sotomayor says of his decision to help the impoverished nation, which is 70 percent deforested.

Té Amo, which means “I love you” in Spanish, partnered with Pittsburgh-based charity Haiti Friends to make Sotomayor’s altruistic dream a reality. Last March, he spent four days in the Caribbean country planting Haitian oaks and fruit-bearing trees and learning about the plight of the residents.

By next summer, he plans to open his own nursery there and, through technology, to give his Pittsburgh customers a chance to watch videos of “their” trees being planted.

In the meantime, he’s continuing his studies at Grove City, where his tea has become part of the curriculum. Several of Sotomayor’s classmates serve as Té Amo interns and he recently won $2,000 in the school’s Wolverine Venture Battle, a competition for budding business owners.

On Sept. 28 he will speak at the EntreEd Forum. Presented by the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education, the annual event gives attendees a unique opportunity to learn about free enterprise via hands-on workshops.

And in the spring, the company will be rebranded under the name “Tea Amo” and will switch from plastic to glass bottles. Sotomayor and his mother are busy experimenting with different flavors, such as berry-jasmine and citrus-mint, to complement their flagship chai beverage.

“I love the fact that we have the opportunity to iron out all of the kinks of the business while I’m still in school,” says Sotomayor, a junior at Grove City. “It supplements what I’m learning and it kind of gives us an incredible advantage. Right now, it’s setting the building blocks for something epic.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.