It was 12 years ago @tirtausada and I scrimped together $200 each from our crumby odd jobs and pooled it in a joint business starter account. He, a disgruntled, prematurely retrenched tea professional and I, a pen-for-hire. We pounded the pavement, brown duffle in hand, talking to any cafe and restaurant who’d listen.
Then one day, we met our version of (R.I.P.A.B.’s) Bigfoot. Lean, clean-shaven, spine upright. You had to be on. Oh boy did you have to be on. Suffice to say, you don’t get to run one of the world’s most respected restaurants by glossing over the details. It took six meetings for us to be thoroughly sussed out, with each we were assigned homework to be evaluated on, a tweak of a blend here, an obscure sourcing there before we landed their first order.
From there, the bar was set. If we didn’t think something would pass the proverbial Bigfoot test, we couldn’t proceed, we mustn’t proceed. That kept us honest, chalking up some big losses in the short-term but gaining plenty in the long.
Soon after though, barely having recouped our 200 start-up smacks, my partner-in-crime announced he had to leave the country to answer his ultimate calling as a homeopath. So we packed things up from his attic (our “warehouse” for the first two years) shifted it all over to my apartment and I was tasked with the dilemma - trudge on solo or an extremely niche garage sale?
Then something forced my hand to reach for those chocolate leather handles. But before the fear of failure could retract my shaky fingers, my grip felt the familiar weight of assorted apothecary bottles, copper sample tins and tea accoutrement - what Tjok and I had affectionately dubbed “The Kit”, I just could not turn my back.
“Kit”, a beat-up ‘98 Camry named Bertha and I became inseparable road dogs. Through the rejections, the put-downs - especially ones by people who were in no place to put anybody down, the “it’s just tea”-ers, we laughed, we cried. I almost quit - plenty of times. If it wasn’t for the occasional beacons of light, the quality focussed, the open-minded operators who always want to give customers their best, the ones that care enough to show them something different beyond the status quo, I couldn’t’ve gone on. So I trudged.
Together with years of unpaid family labour later, we finally saw some traction. To the point where we could hire help. Wifey could finally get some much needed physio for years of mortar and pestling whole masala on our living room rug. Eventually we got so fancy my father-in-law could finally stop smuggling out free used cardboard boxes from his work, we could now pay for packaging!
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably one of the ones I’m forever grateful for. To the like-minded proprietors, chefs, bartenders, FOH, BOH, baristas, artists, collaborators - some I cherish as personal friends, thank you for your support but mostly for the conversations. Thank you for soldiering on above the meanness, the meaninglessness and instead, creating spaces where people can unburden themselves and enjoy a momentary respite. To the real food journalists and publications requiring a bit more than obsequiousness, trend-following and eye-candy photo-accompaniments, thank you for noticing - thank you for your coverage beyond the typical, thank you for showing love to the once maligned west.
To our staff, The Final Form - thank you for seeing the humour, thank you for your loyalty, thank you for your abilities. Thank you for allowing me to be me.
To the growers and producers - now that’s work. You’re doing the heavy lifting, we’re just shootin’ the breeze. Thank you for the root of it all, thank you for the muse.
To Mr Dore, thank you ; )
To Tjok, most of all, to our respective families, thank you for your continued love and support. Let’s go another twelve?