Entrepreneur David Segal is shuffling through a crowd of about fifty people, young and old, crammed into his brand new Chicago store at 1645 N. Damen on a brisk October night. He is trying to splice time between meeting with colleagues, talking with friends and acquaintances, and exposing rookie tea drinkers to the prodigious and intricate world of gourmet tea. A mixologist stands in the corner shaking up pumpkin Chai tea martinis in the storefront corner, working tirelessly to make sure everyone can get a drink to take the edge off.
An intense, animated, mostly female staff is talking tea to guests behind a long white counter, offering samples and sharing the secrets of eccentric teas like Jumpy Monkey and Forever Nuts. A twenty-something from Montreal with a dream opened his first retail tea store in Toronto in 2008. I am, unbeknownst to me, attending his grand opening party number for store number 84.
David’s Tea is a freshly-lit retail store that stretches down a narrow, rectangular, retail space. The store boasts a set up similar to a bar with over 180 tea varieties stacked up along the wall, each labeled with its own unique flavor. A few feet from the wall of tea a long counter stretches the length of the containers. Between the counter and the wall of teas stand five spirited tea baristas, sharing their knowledge and love of tea while ringing up customers with bags of tea, tea kettles, and tea mugs.
Like many people my age in the Chicagoland area, my experience with tea has been boiling water and throwing a Lipton packet into a mug on sick days. Walking into a store and seeing over 180 tea flavors, with aged and cooked herbs found around the world, can be a bit overwhelming. The crowd is loud and people are standing shoulder to shoulder, but I manage to find David and get him to step aside to talk to me about David’s Tea. I feel lost in an underground world I know nothing about, but David, like the tea he sells, is here to calm my nerves and put me at ease.
“We’re here to make it easy for you,” David assured me. “Tea’s so versatile. It fits in your lifestyle. It’s universal. It’s the second biggest drink in the world next to water. It’s just that in North America we’re slow to catch up to it, but I think people in Chicago are really open to it. Everybody loves to explore their tastes and you get to explore all these things from all over the world without ever leaving Bucktown [or] Wicker Park.”
David would probably stick out like a sore thumb among a line-up of millionaire entrepreneurs of multi-national companies. He is wearing blue jeans, an open-collared shirt, and suit jacket. He mixes in with the crowd of mostly youthful Bucktown residents curious about tea and taking a relaxing break from the work week. But David’s work in Chicago is just beginning, and David’s Tea may soon be a household name in Chicago. In addition to the Bucktown location, David will also be opening locations at 924 W Armitage Ave in Lincoln Park and 3530 N Southport Avenue in Lakeview. If these locations are successful, expect David’s Tea to expand throughout the Northside of Chicago.
“I love Chicago, I gotta tell ya” says David. “You guys are awesome. Super friendly people; very open minded. It’s never easy to open a store, it’s a lot of hard work, but Chicago’s been a great place to be. I just find the people very warm and open. My kind of town.”
About the author: Joe Struck is a Lakeview resident and Graduate of Columbia College with a B.A. in Journalism. He works his day job at State Farm (on Division St.) and contributes to the Chicago Pipeline by night. Loves hearing new music and going to concerts at small venues. Most recently he checked out CrossFit on Division, Fat Pour, and got up close with The Carriage House.
Alisa was at the party, too, and albeit belated, will have a slideshow story up on DNAinfo.com/Chicago… coming soon!