Author: Jacob Took
Photography: Kyle Pompey
When Cuples Tea House founders Lynnette and her husband Eric were dating, they often met for tea. When they traveled, they loved trying out local tea houses. When they had the idea to open a place of their own, it felt like a natural fit. In 2015 they attended the World Tea Conference + Expo in San Diego, learning from other entrepreneurs what it would take to start their own tea company. Lynnette was intimidated. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” she says. “I worried that we weren’t ready.”
But things took off quickly. Later that summer, they debuted a branded product line at a small vendor fair in Lexington Market, where they scored contracts with Maryland Institute College of Art and Kaiser Permanente. Their operating principle Lynnette remembers, “say yes and then figure it out.” “That was the moment we knew there was no turning back,” Eric says, “We were now part of the supply chain.”
As their brand in Baltimore grew, they got products on shelves at several restaurants, cafes and brick-and-mortar stores across the city, fulfilled contracts with some of the city’s top institutions and were a regular presence at local farmers markets, where they met fellow small business owners and future neighbors Nicole and Dwight of Cajou Creamery. But they still sought a space of their own to create what the couple calls #theurbanteaexperience.
A breakthrough came in early 2020 when they won the Howard Row Small Business Storefront Competition from developer Poverni Sheikh Group, securing one year of free rent and a built-out of a retail space on Howard Street; Cajou also won the space next door. The number of Black-owned businesses has continued to grow along the 400 block of North Howard Street in an area that had been largely abandoned for more than 30 years, the result of historic under-investment. “We remember when Howard Street used to be hustling and bustling for businesses,” Lynnette says. “We are bringing that back. We are pioneers in this journey.”
They credit Made In Baltimore for expanding their scope of opportunities, and the city’s wider small business community with supporting their goals for growth. “Support is a verb,” Eric says, noting that collaborating, sharing resources and having one another’s backs has helped them establish partnerships with other entrepreneurs. “I can’t imagine doing this without a community of like minded business owners.
Lynnette says that Cuples has been on fire recently, with features from high-profile people and publications along with the support of the local Baltimore community. She teases that the couple has another project in the works, but isn’t ready to say more. Ever humble, Lynnette says Eric’s tenacity and drive kept her going through moments of doubt, while Eric says Lynnette’s vision made Cuples what it is today. “We’re demonstrating that small businesses can come to the city and be successful,” Eric says. Lynnette adds, “Baltimore is ready for it.”
To learn more visit: cuplesteahouse.com