TEA JOURNEYS OF SCOTT HERRON, LEAF MANAGER AT STEEP MOUNTAIN TEA
My passion for tea ignited when I was a freshman in high school in Salt Lake City, Utah. Two of my best friends and I went to visit another friend who worked at The Tea Grotto on a whim. We sat for hours waxing philosophical and attempting to unravel the mysteries of our 15-year-old world. As we sat and discussed, gently fueled by numerous pots of walnut green tea, I came to understand why this ancient leaf has been a crux for so many varied cultures throughout the world and history. Tea as a warm brewed beverage has been bringing people together to share special time together for millennia, and I was happily just another incarnation of this valuable human experience.
We repeated this ritual a few times through high school and each time it was a highlight that I still recall fondly. Later while attending college I could be found brewing tea with brain-stimulating herbs in addition to official tea leaves for our study sessions, refining the blends as my learning about the properties of herbal tea plants slowly grew.
After graduating from Linfield College in Oregon I worked at a vineyard with Melissa for a summer and tried to get further into the specialty beverage industry (in addition to home brewing beer and kombucha as a hobby). Then in October of 2010 I finally began a job in my dream industry, brewing tea to order for customers as a tea-barista at Townshend’s Tea Company’s flagship location on Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon. It was working there over the next three years where I truly gained an appreciation and understanding of the way of the Camellia sinensis leaf in its various forms.
It was also during this time while working at Townshend’s Teahouse that I developed (along with Melissa) a business plan for beginning our own teahouse closer to her family in beautiful Bozeman, Montana. My manager and the owner of Townshend’s then approached me and asked whether we would be interested in partnering with them to open an unofficial franchise-style location for Townshend’s Tea, rather than starting our own company from the ground up. This appealed to us as we didn’t have the business experience nor infrastructure at the time, and thus we moved to Montana and opened our teahouse doors in the old Gem Gallery location in downtown Bozeman in April of 2014.
Things went relatively smoothly until the COVID pandemic hit Montana in early 2020. We remained open for most of the time with just a skeleton crew serving drinks and loose tea to-go and with limited seating, but our Townshend’s sister stores in Oregon and Utah did not weather the change quite as well. In October 2021 our business partner decided he was ready to terminate the operations. He offered to sell his share to us at a discounted rate, but we were way too fatigued to re-establish all the clerical support that goes into owning a business. My father had also been diagnosed with a terminal illness at this point, and as his health was in rapid decline I felt that it was extremely important for me to personally be able to care for him.
Under all these stressors, we emailed our restaurateur friends, Serena Rundberg and Nick Garbiel of Inspired Madness Inc., who owned Feed Cafe and The Daily Coffee. We knew that they had the back-end infrastructure and practical experience to keep the teahouse alive. Although it seemed like a long shot, we were extremely relieved and excited when they agreed to purchase our Townshend’s branch and incorporate it into their restaurant family!
For the past year and a half, Melissa and I have been continuing to manage the teahouse (now named Steep Mountain Teahouse) in the same location and with a majority of the same staff and products. We work closely with Nick and Serena, as well as Serena’s wife Mariah, to keep the wheels turning and the teas steeping every day. We are so grateful to them for saving our business and keeping it as a community hub, as well as for keeping all of us employed in doing the work we love for the people of Bozeman and beyond.