Menno Tea co-founders Niles Graber Miller and Hans Weaver met at Goshen College in the fall of 2010. Niles, who was a freshman from Goshen, Indiana, and Hans, a sophomore from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were both en route to the Mennonite Economic Development Association business conference when they discovered their mutual passion for start-up businesses. They both had interest in the beverage industry and, after brainstorming in their dorm rooms, decided to brew tea to sell on campus.
As they continued fleshing out their ideas, Hans and Niles realized they could apply for a business grant that the Goshen College business department offers to entrepreneurs. Their focus intensified as they began drafting a business plan. Through determining their target audience, comparing other beverage companies, and examining what their expenses would be, the business plan was a great learning experience for both entrepreneurs and helped them think in more depth about possibilities for Menno Tea. One major focus of the business plan was discerning what they wanted the company’s purpose to be. Because both Hans and Niles value a strong community and bringing people together, forming a Menno Tea Culture became a priority.
After finalizing their business plan, they presented it to the business department at Goshen College to approving ears. Niles and Hans were grateful to receive the grant and were encouraged to continue pushing ahead.
So, with their business plan approved, Niles and Hans began putting their plan into action. They took Hans’ family recipe for meadow tea and brewed it in Niles’ kitchen (to the delight of Niles’ family, who could drink the test runs). After purchasing some basic production equipment and deciding that replicating the traditional recipe in Goshen was feasible, the pair began bottling the tea on their college campus. They coordinated with the campus café, Java Junction, and arranged to make the tea there. Hans and Niles made a small assembly line and spent hours producing hundreds of bottles in the small kitchen with the help of friends. Smells of mint tea wafted around the college halls, building anticipation for a spectacular kick-off event on campus.
As the Menno Tea kick-off day approached, Niles and Hans began building excitement for Menno Tea through collaboration with the college Art Club and with Niles’ classic white VW bug, which he converted to be an all-electric car. The event drew an unexpected amount of people from both the college and Goshen community, which thrilled Niles and Hans.
Two weeks after Hans and Niles started production, media outlets began picking up on the campus excitement. A few city newspapers, television stations, and the campus paper all featured Menno Tea, which continued to grow (their stories can be seen here). Because of this attention, their new objective was to get the tea out in stores outside of campus; soon, Menno Tea was selling in a number of stores in downtown Goshen.
Now, with Hans a junior and Niles a sophomore, the pair hopes to see continued growth for Menno Tea. They plan to begin sourcing tea ingredients locally, as sustainability is valued by both entrepreneurs. Niles and Hans will both be traveling with the college’s Study-Service Term program to Peru this next year, and they look forward to discovering new tastes abroad to diversify Menno Tea’s flavors.
Where will Menno Tea be in five years? Niles and Hans don’t know, but they know they want you there with them. So, sip on a bottle of Menno Tea and stay posted for new developments!