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January 23, 2019

Inspired by mom's tea room, entrepreneur brews up 'tea-commerce' startup

Courtesy / Jacqueline's Teas
Courtesy / Jacqueline's Teas
Jacqueline Soley, left, and her daughter, Barbara Soley, shown here at Jacqueline's Tea Room in Freeport, which closed its doors in July. Inspired by her mom, Barbara has launched an online subscription service called Jacqueline's Teas.

When Jacqueline Soley closed Jacqueline's Tea Room in downtown Freeport last July to retire, she symbolically passed the baton to her daughter, Barbara Soley.

Sad to see the tea room close but happy for her mom, Barbara is carrying on the tea tradition — updated for the digital era — with a new online subscription service called Jacqueline's Teas.

Initial orders were just shipped, the majority of which went to longtime tea room customers. Mother and daughter, still working together but now in different roles, are both excited about the new venture.

"We're learning from each other," says Barbara, who recalls growing up above the tea room and helping serve (mainly female) customers savoring cuppas with homemade treats.

Barbara came up with the idea for a British-style tea room after visiting one in Florida with her mother and grandmother and thinking it was something she could do. In 2005 she opened Jacqueline's Tea Room, which she ran as a single mother with help from her daughter and son.

Barbara says there were many busy Saturdays that ended with her and her mom putting their sore feet up against the wall. She also remembers lots of bridal and baby showers held there.

While Jacqueline was sad to close her doors for good last summer, she was ready to start a new chapter, saying: "I loved every minute of it, but I was thinking I can't do it anymore."

A few months before closing when Jacqueline broke the news to customers, they asked where they'd be able to get the quality teas they'd come to cherish. Enter Barbara and her idea for an online tea subscription service.

Millennial with a marketing background

A millennial with a marketing background, Barbara returned to Maine from San Francisco last summer, armed with a business plan and advice gathered from mentors. She runs Jacqueline's Teas out of her mom's New Gloucester home while looking for a Portland office.

Barbara says they have more than 80 varieties of tea and while they don't work directly with plantations, they collaborate with several regional distributors sourcing from places including India, China, Japan and Sri Lanka.

"We're only importing the highest-quality loose-leaf teas from those regions," she says.

While they're starting out with longtime tea room customers, the hope is that through word-of-mouth and marketing the subscription service will reach tea fans who never had the opportunity to learn about tea from Jacqueline, according to Barbara.

She notes, for example, that the Tea Sommelier subscription is designed to educate those customers about different tea types so they can get a sense of what they like best. "Customers can then move on to one of our customizable subscriptions that suit their preferences and will introduce them to similar teas each month," she says.

And for those wanting to recreate a British afternoon tea service at home, Barbara recommends the Jacqueline's Teas subscription, which pairs seasonal blends with the tea room's most popular recipes.

While careful about starting small with an initial focus on longtime tea room customers, Barbara would eventually like to ship nationwide and even internationally.

Glad to help her daughter get the business off the ground, Jacqueline affectionately likens the subscription venture to "the tea room in a box."

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