Court, customers search for owner of Tea Guys in Whately

The Tea Guys factory building on Christian Lane in Whately.

The Tea Guys factory building on Christian Lane in Whately. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-16-2023 10:43 AM

WHATELY — The owner of Tea Guys in Whately is in hot water for not shipping products to paying customers and failing to respond to Franklin County Superior Court matters.

Oliver Rich is being sued by Zest Tea LLC, a Baltimore company that alleges breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Judge David Hodge in July froze accounts at Greenfield Savings Bank and Evolve Bank & Trust up to $5.67 million, the amount Zest Tea is seeking in damages. This amount represents the $1.87 million that Zest Tea alleges it had lost up until that date. The figure could be tripled under state law if Tea Guys is found guilty of unfair business practices, among other costs, including attorney fees.

Robert Dambrov, Zest Tea’s attorney, argued during a Zoom court session in July in favor of his two motions to have Tea Guys’ accounts frozen. He alleged Tea Guys breached a memorandum of understanding shortly after Zest Tea founder and CEO James Fayal signed it on Jan. 19 by failing to comply with its obligations to make vendor payments and complete shipments. Zest Tea manufactures and sells functional beverages, including a line of tea bags and loose-leaf teas, ready-to-drink canned beverages and hydration powders.

Multiple attempts to reach Rich via phone and email have been unsuccessful. The factory at 110 Christian Lane in Whately was dark and quiet when visited by a reporter. A neighbor mentioned he hadn’t seen much activity there in quite some time. A voicemail message says the factory store and tasting room are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the civil complaint Dambrov filed on July 13, his client entered into an agreement to license to Tea Guys the portion of its business that sells tea bags into the retail channel. He reports Zest Tea did this at least in part because at the time there had been supply chain issues across the industry “and Tea Guys represented, and appeared, to have ample capacity and know-how to operate the retail channel.”

“While verbally agreeing upon a basic licensing structure and discussing the terms for a written agreement,” Dambrov wrote, “Zest shipped its existing component inventory to Tea Guys and provided them with pick lists as well as the total cost of that inventory.”

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The agreement generally covered licensing revenue, existing inventory purchases and expectations for both parties’ intellectual property.

Dambrov argued in court in July that Tea Guys “can’t be trusted” and deliberately lied to retail customers, distributors and vendors. He said Zest Tea has lost 36% of its value as a result of Tea Guys’ violation of the terms of the agreement.

The Superior Court is reportedly preparing to publish a notification in the Greenfield Recorder to try to locate Rich. But court officials aren’t the only ones who cannot contact the Tea Guys owner or get information from him. No posts have been made on the company’s Facebook page since Dec. 2, 2022. That post, a Christmas meme, now has comments from customers asking about orders that have been paid for but have not arrived.

One of those frustrated customers is Erving resident Megan Edson, who ordered $55.92 worth of tea on Sept. 7 and has not received it.

“I don’t how they can still be charging money. Where’s the money going?” she said.

Edson said she has also called and emailed Tea Guys to no avail.

Her comment on the most recent Tea Guys post got the attention of North Carolina resident Elise Easterling, who messaged Edson privately after also failing to receive products she paid for. Easterling said she used a 20% coupon and bought about $55 worth of tea in July.

“August went by and nothing happened,” she said. “It was supposed to be five to seven days. I emailed them and no response. I called them, no response.”

Easterling said the situation is particularly disappointing because she was a loyal customer and is now a cash-strapped graduate student.

“I’m not flush with money right now,” she said.

“The fact that they’re still taking people’s money is really ticking us both off. It’s just not right,” Edson added.

The real estate taxes are current at Tea Guys, according to the office of Whately’s treasurer/collector. Tea Guys LLC has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau.

A display at Greenfield’s Big Y supermarket that once exclusively offered Tea Guys products no longer carries the company’s items, but rather coffee, granola, honey, vodka and whiskey. According to Claire D’Amour-Daley at the supermarket chain’s corporate office, Big Y no longer carries Tea Guys’ products. She said she believes the company is out of business.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.