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Elmwood Inn of Perryville, KY Affiliate Opens in Lexington, Kentucky

Monday, 25 January 2010
by Heidi Kyser

Following four years of research and preparation, husband and wife Danielle and Miller Montague opened MonTea in Lexington, Ky., Nov. 16, 2009. The shop’s tagline is, “Featuring Elmwood Inn Fine Teas,” and it reflects a unique partnership between a retailer and wholesaler.

Both Danielle Montague and Bruce Richardson, owner of Elmwood Inn in nearby Perryville, Ky., described their partnership as a loose one, based on trust and a handshake. Montague said she goes to Richardson first to request teas that she and her customers want. If he doesn’t carry something, and can’t find or blend it, he gives her his blessing to source it elsewhere. So far, only three of MonTea’s 56 teas are not Elmwood Inn brand.

For his part, Richardson said he decided to “sort of lend (Danielle) our name to give her an instant presence for selling tea in Lexington.” Having known her since her days as a marketing director for a public radio station – which often featured Elmwood Inn teas at its events – and watched her meticulously plan the tea shop over the course of several years, Richardson was confident that Montague would make a good partner.

She said she began thinking about starting a tea business well before being laid off by the radio station in June of 2008. After visiting a Teavana in Charleston, S.C., Montague mentioned to her husband that she thought such a thing would work well in Lexington. A law librarian and information technologist by trade, Miller Montague took his cue and began researching the specialty tea business. He found that his wife was right: They were in the middle of an ideal market for a tea shop.

Located in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Lexington, MonTea is “right beside the University of Kentucky, which is the largest employer in the state,” Danielle Montague pointed out. “We tap into the college community, professors, students and also a large international population.”

“They’re in a great location,” Richardson added, “the kind of place where hip, young affluent people live. I think they’ll do very well there.

The Montagues know their audience well because both of them grew up in the neighborhood. They wanted to create something that would build on and enhance the local scene, which did not include a tea shop of any kind.

At least one of their business neighbors finds MonTea a welcome addition. Will Pieratt, co-owner of Cajun and Creole restaurant Bourbon n’ Toulouse, said he headed to the tea shop to check out his new neighbors and was surprised to find former high school classmate Miller Montague there.

According to Pieratt, a few different establishments have come and gone at the address where MonTea is now located since he’s been there. But he believes things will be different for the tea shop, for several reasons.
Apart from knowing and blending into the neighborhood, the Montagues have tapped into Chevy Chase’s strength, according to Pieratt. “I think the neighborhood will embrace them because people who come here want to try new things, especially anything that can enhance their culinary experience.” He added that the area is known as a culinary destination, due to its abundance of markets and eateries representing a broad range of ethnic flavors and food groups.

The area also tends to favor small, independent businesses, Pieratt said. People who want chains shop in the suburbs. Those who go to Chevy Chase are looking for a unique experience.

Danielle Montague said she and her husband considered franchising, but ultimately decided to go the independent route. She contacted her old acquaintance Bruce Richardson for advice, and their partnership blossomed.

MonTea is a hybrid retail store and takeaway tea counter. Dry, loose-leaf teas are stored and displayed on shelves, and sold in packages of 1 ounce and up with a 2-ounce purchase minimum. Montague said she decided to do this as a way to motivate consumers to buy multiple teas in one purchase – and it’s working. Often, she added, customers will get five or more 1-ounce packages.

In addition, they can buy brewed tea in 8- or 16-ounce cups, but Montague stressed, “We didn’t want to be a café or serve food. We felt it was important to be good at the specifics before adding other things.” She said she’s taken down as many as 20 different teas from the shelves to brew for customers to taste.

The Montagues haven’t yet done any marketing or promotion, which Danielle said she plans to start doing now. Business has reflected their cautious, soft opening, but she expects it to pick up.
Asked if he would consider other partnerships like the one he has with MonTea, Richardson said, “I think it’s a win-win for both of us, and it could easily translate into a model that we could apply to other aspiring retailers.”

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