“This idea of creating a community-based environment in a cafe felt very appealing to me. It had to be a place where people could feel at home. I have tasked my employees with building these relationships that will support the community so in turn, the community will support us,” Spiel explained.
After twelve years of running two small, organic tea shops in the New York borough of Brooklyn, Jonathan Spiel had to close one down when his landlord increased the rent in 2009. Facing that setback, Mr. Spiel decided to look into selling Tea Lounge franchises to expand into new markets and keep his business going.
The Tea Lounge’s first franchise opened this year, in Kuwait.
Tea Lounge blends into Kuwaiti culture, which emphasizes gathering over tea and whose per-capita income is the world’s fifth highest. “It’s a booming economy,” Mr. Spiel said. “It’s a very social culture, which fits in great with my concept.”
That concept is part café, part bar and part live-music venue. Mr. Spiel said the Kuwait outpost’s menu will add cheesecake, a local favorite, and will leave out the alcohol and prosciutto sandwiches.
Becoming a franchise owner is hard work—in addition to learning about the company you’re working with, the process involves communicating with customers, running numbers, publicity and everything in between. But, Spiel notes, there are perks: “All the legwork—from concept to implementation—is already done for you.”
“I went through all the café franchises,” said Jonathan Spiel, Tea Lounge’s owner. “There’s nothing else like this, that has the café/entertainment/bar feature.”
Now he has decided to turn Tea Lounge into a franchise and recently signed a deal with his first franchisee, a Kuwaiti businessman named Mohammed al Arbash who plans to open his first Tea Lounge in a Kuwait City shopping mall in November.
How does a Brooklyn lounge that boasts a bar and is popular with nursing mothers become a winning concept in an Arab country where alcohol is banned and women must be modest?
“It’s a tea culture, yet there are no tea places,” said Spiel.
While that’s not technically true, the desert state does have two things Brooklyn lacks: oil money and a hunger for more U.S. brands
The region also has robust consumer culture, said Jonathan Spiel, owner of Tea Lounge in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose first franchised agreement will cover not the United States but Kuwait.
“It’s a very social culture, and going to malls and socializing is a big part of their day,” Spiel said. “Because of that, the malls there are unbelievable: Every brand you can think of is there, and the locals want to develop something unique and cool.”
The Tea Lounge — the neighborhood’s longtime home for laptop-clacking writers and mommy meet-up groups — will become a chain with in-the-works franchise locations under consideration in Long Island, Virginia, and Kuwait, said owner Jonathan Spiel.
Ok, so it’s not a bar for most of the day. But the prize for size goes to Tea Lounge; its spaciousness makes you even more glad you don’t work in a cubicle. (In fact, the place is so big that it hosted a big-band showcase two years ago.) Full of tables, chairs and sofas of all shapes and sizes, it nails the inviting boffice ambiance.
What it really comes down to is tapping into Speil’s experience in opening and closing businesses. “There’s the Franchise fee,” he explained. “There are capital costs. But really, if you are going to get into the restaurant business, you need to learn how to not get screwed by a plumber, or to not spend thousands on a piece of equipment that sucks. The franchise fee is probably smaller than what you’ll spend figuring things out on your own.”
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Tea Lounge has everything. It belongs in the coffice hall of fame along with Breukelen and Outpost.
“From the exterior, Tea Lounge looks like another crammed cafe. Its sheer size will slap you in the face upon entry. Imagine a funky Brooklyn living room, now multiply it by 5, add both a coffee bar, wine bar, performance stage and art gallery and you will begin to understand all that is Tea Lounge.”
Size Matters : The Tea Lounge Large Ensemble Series
Monday Nights in March have been turned over to JC Sanford for a BIG event. The Monday night NY jazz big band tradition stretches south to Brooklyn as five formidable large ensembles flex their creative muscles in this unique series. Each of these groups showcases the singular compositional voice of the leader and combines international influences with the Brooklyn experience.
Mon March 1 – JC Sanford Jazz Orchestra
Mon March 8 – Bill Mobley Big Band
Mon March 15 – Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble
Mon March 22 – Frank Carlberg City Band
Mon March 29 – Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra
At the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, when members run afoul of the work requirements, suspension and shame often result.
“…Ms. Colic confided as she sipped blueberry tea one day this summer at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope. “Look, you can see the sign from here,” she said, despondent, pointing to the neon green “Food Coop” shining across Union Street.” -NY Times
“ You can ‘hang for hours’ at Park Slope’s ‘funky’ teahouse twins, where the ‘relaxed vibe’, ‘comfy sofas’ and ‘huge variety’ of ‘high quality’ teas and ‘very good coffee’ have made it a popular destination for ‘laptop-toters, job-hunters’ and ‘hip moms and kids’ by day, and ‘handsome locals (who appreciate the ’great wine and beer selection’) by night; standouts in the snack department are ‘yummy’ bakes goods, sandwiches and soups. ”