Client Name: Jonathan Blakeslee
Business Name: White Heron Tea & Coffee
Business Website: https://www.whiteherontea.com/
Industry: Coffee & Tea Shop, Wholesale
Location: Portsmouth, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Warren Daniel
Fate, the universe, or a higher power may have been at play for Jonathan Blakeslee and White Heron Tea & Coffee in Portsmouth, NH.
Unsure what he wanted to do with his life, Jonathan joined the United States Coast Guard after graduating high school and embraced an opportunity to go to Hokkaido, Japan where he was stationed for a little over a year. There, he discovered an interest in tea.
After returning to the U.S, no matter where he lived, tea always seemed to be nearby. Jonathan says, “it felt like everywhere I went, tea just ended up on my doorstep.” In Seattle, he lived down the street from a place called Tea House Kuan Yin that he loved, and years later, he moved to Portland, Oregon where, as fate would have it, he was right around the corner from a place called The Dao of Tea. He spent a lot of time there. So much time in fact, that he eventually ended up working there. It was a big change from the high-end restaurants in which he had been working following his time with the Coast Guard.
He shares, “in the time that I was at the Dao of Tea, I worked with people from England and Japan, a woman who is of Persian descent, and people from India. I just love the culture of tea.” He learned about and tasted different teas and soon began experimenting with making his own. He loved what he was doing, but homesickness kicked in.
He decided to head back home to NH but wanted to continue following his newfound passion for making tea. “So, I just decided to try to start my own little wholesale Tea Company in New Hampshire,” says Jonathan.
White Heron Tea & Coffee became the first organic certified tea company in NH in 2006, and today, what began with Jonathan pedaling his teas at farmers’ markets, is now a 40-seat cafe in Portsmouth with a take-out only location in Eliot, ME. In addition, White Heron provides wholesale organic tea and coffee to over 100 New England cafes, restaurants, grocers, and retailers, and sells to retail consumers online.
Eager to learn more about running a business, Jonathan found support first from SCORE, which referred him to NH SBDC where he began working with Business Advisor Warren Daniel. Over the years, NH SBDC has helped Jonathan scale his business, develop a business plan, gain visibility through marketing, connect to local resources, and learn about bringing a business partner into the mix. Just in the past year alone, Warren has kept White Heron up to date on the NH Restaurant Infrastructure Program Grant and assisted them in their wholesale deliveries vs. shipping and online opportunities.
“What I’ve always appreciated about Warren is he’s always been warm, but direct,” says Jonathan. “He was really great at helping me dial in and focus.” As business owner, Jonathan explains there is always a lot to do, so you often must stop and consider ‘what’s the biggest fish to fry.’ “He (Warren) was really good at helping me sort that out,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan also noted how he appreciated that Warren had a knack for helping him inventory where he was strong and where he was weak, comparing it to looking for cracks in a wall. Warren could see the “cracks in Jonathan’s wall,” so to speak, and advise him on the areas he needed to patch.
Jonathan believes that one of the things that makes NH SBDC so important, is how it helps NH businesses get started, grow, thrive, and create jobs. Reflecting on the ever-changing climate of business, Jonathan notes,
“as busy as we are working to keep our businesses afloat, it can be hard to find time to crunch numbers, revise a business plan, navigate a pandemic, take on any number of challenges. Since 2006, there have been countless things I needed help with that I was able to reach out to NH SBDC for. My advisor Warren Daniel consistently made time to help as needed and was great at pairing me up with talented folks who could assist with specific tasks.”
White Heron’s Portsmouth café is in its 10th year, and it is year 18 since the business started. Jonathan shares, “we look forward to steady and continued growth, with NH SBDC and The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth working to support us and so many others.”