Bob Heiss, co-owner of Tea Trekker with his wife Mary Lou Heiss, holds Everest hand- Rolled Himalaya black tea in their shop in Northampton Tuesday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
Job title and company: Along with my wife, Mary Lou, we are the founders and owners of Tea Trekker, 2 Gleason Plaza, Northampton. We opened Tea Trekker in 2006 as a focused continuation of the Coffee Gallery/Cooks Shop Here specialty food businesses that we have operated in Northampton for 39 years.
Your duties: We are the owners, so the buck stops with us.
How did you land your job? We came here from San Francisco in 1974 specifically to open a coffee and tea store. We have expanded and contracted since then, and our store now is basically a return to our roots with an entirely updated selection of world-class premium tea.
What’s most challenging about your work? Sourcing a well-curated selection of artisan teas from Asia and being in the vanguard of what is occurring in the world of tea on an international level. We enjoy bringing that knowledge and product to our loyal customers here in the Valley and beyond via our website.
What do you like about your job? We are constantly learning and delving deeper into knowledge about tea and tea culture — there is so much to know. Each time we travel to Asia we become students to our tea masters and increase our knowledge tremendously.
What is your key to success? Incredible hard work and very long hours — a small food store is your life so you better love doing it.
How do you feel the Valley economy will fare this year? We think that people will continue to come out of their shells more in 2013 and enjoy the little, wonderful things that are so special about living in the Valley.
Why did you choose to do business in the Valley? The seasons, the academic atmosphere, proximity to East Coast cities and Europe, and the cultural influences that elevate the norm here.
Who has helped mentor you professionally? From our early days in business the Haugaards (Danco) and others of the Green Street Merchants Association; our friend Karen Karp in New York City; the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals); our tea masters in China and Japan; our editors at Ten Speed Press; and many other food professionals and food writers.
Name a few of your goals for the coming year: Continuing to excel offering only world-class teas and coffees; elevate Mary Lou’s TeaTrekker’s Blog to even higher recognition in the education of tea lovers; continue traveling to more back-country tea-growing areas; perhaps relax a bit!
Tell us a little-known fact about you: Our first tea book, “The Story of Tea, A Cultural History and Drinking Guide,” was nominated for both a James Beard and an IACP book award in 2008.
What is your advice for others seeking business success? Seeking success is all-consuming. If you don’t put in 120 percent, it will not be enough. Never sacrifice your standards or principles — they are the foundation of everything.