A little bit of this, a small pinch of that and a few fresh leaves. Add piping hot water and allow to brew. And what have you got? Homemade and organically grown tea. Full of fun flavors and a regular feature at local farmer’s markets, Piper & Leaf Gardens has quickly become a Huntsville, Alabama, favorite.
This family run company is about more than just creating the perfect cup of tea. Caleb and Brigette Christopher, who started Piper & Leaf together, want their work to be God-centered. As they were seeking what God wanted them to do with their lives, neither felt called to the mission field or other traditional areas of ministry. Instead, they felt a tug towards owning their own business and found that it’s a great opportunity for a different kind of ministry. Through their type of work, they have the privilege of serving and reaching out to many people.
Community is a big part of what Piper & Leaf is all about. Friends and family came together to help create this business, taking it from a hobby to a company that has recently opened its first tea shoppe location. Connor Knapp, Brigette’s brother and also one of the owners, said that helping the local community is among their top priorities. “Some of our core things are first and foremost our focus on God and being able to work with friends and family. We want to work in the community, not just for the community.”
Piper & Leaf does this by using local farmers to supply ingredients they can’t grow themselves and by connecting with local businesses. They also want to focus on community outreach through partnering with other local ministries. Another way they seek to reach out is now through their new store. Connor said, “We want to create a safe place for kids to hang out and give them an opportunity to gain job skills.”
Not everything grows like a weed. But some things do — like sassafras and other ingredients used to create some of their special brews. Their family business, however, took a little longer to get off to a successful start than it took the herbs to grow. Believe it or not, Caleb, Brigette and Connor began by selling compost at the local farmer’s market. Caleb had a huge pile of compost left from his previous landscaping business. “We started selling compost and just sold tea on the side, but selling compost was terrible,” Connor said. “We sold maybe three buckets in the first three weeks.”
Selling tea, which was originally just a refreshing addition to their market booth, quickly morphed into the main attraction. “Our tea, which we sold on the side, sold out every time,” Connor said. People even began asking for recipes and tea concentrates. Connor credits his sister Brigette with saying, “Let’s try selling tea.” And it all took off from there.
Caleb explained, “Me and Brigette are addicted to tea, and I’d been blending it for a while just for fun, but we really couldn’t afford to buy high quality tea.” Connor really wanted to sell something in mason jars too, so they thought selling tea in the jars would be fun. Their original and fresh flavors, blended by Caleb, the “master brewer,” quickly became a hit. Thus Samovar Gardens (the company’s initial name) was born.
The tea ingredients came from the herbs found in their garden. “We had a lot of stuff from landscaping that we’d rip out and put in at our house,” Caleb said, “and it had just taken off — things like spearmint and strawberry plants.” They also foraged in the woods, in parks and on people’s lawns for herbs that grew wild. As demand for their teas increased, they began recruiting other family members and friends to grow herbs for them. Even though Caleb and Brigette liked to drink premium teas, Caleb was skeptical at first of it becoming popular. However, the combination of great ingredients, working as a family and the South’s passion for sweet tea paved the way for their successful growth.
A Little Pruning
Just when things seemed to be going well for Samovar Gardens, the mail delivered bad news. A tea company on the other side of the country sent a cease and desist order, claiming that the word “samovar” was their trademark. Samovar is simply the Russian word for a fancy tea urn. “Everyone was pretty angry and frustrated about the first notification,” Caleb recalled. “It wasn’t right. It wasn’t a legitimate trademark.”
Not wanting to waste the time, energy and money fighting a name battle, they debated, discussed and prayed about what their new name should be. The name whispered into their ears is now their proud logo. Derived from the old English word for a tea kettle and a subtle reference to their love of nature and herbs, Piper & Leaf was born.
With a new name came the need to re-brand and spread the word around. Smart use of social media did the work, and the new company page gained over 1,000 likes on Facebook in just five days after the name change. “[The other company’s name-change demand] actually helped us,” Connor said, “because people were upset about what happened and became even more loyal.” Instead of losing business, the story of the name change gave them a lot of good publicity. Everyone agreed that the new name was really good.
They decided to face the challenge to their name with grace and forgiveness, and God has blessed them because of it. “He’s really been blessing and opening doors,” Caleb said. “He’s taking care of us.”
From Bud To Blossom
Developing a successful business out of a hobby and love for tea was not all easy. What started as a one-night-per-week project turned into a lot of physical work and some 90-hour work weeks for the company’s founders. But they found joy in working together. Friends volunteered to help, being paid only in tea and thankfulness at first. Now, Connor said, his biggest highlight about Piper & Leaf is “working as a family at a business that actually makes money.”
Many area farmers’ markets ask Piper & Leaf to set up booths at their locations because they attract customers. And their loyal followers can now also flock to their new brick and mortar shoppe located inside Huntsville’s Lowe Mill ARTS and Entertainment. Lydia Allen, a family friend who helps out with the business, described their new shoppe as “a kind of fish tank.” Customers will now have the chance to see how the teas get processed and brewed and ask questions about it. They will get a chance to be part of the process. “It’s almost like we’re redefining tea in a way,” Lydia added. “We’re taking it to the next level. They can know where it’s coming from and know we’re doing it together.”
Through trials and victories, the founders of Piper & Leaf have kept their focus on remaining God-centered and community focused. They have held tightly to their values and carefully weighed opportunities that came their way. “You have to be really okay with ‘no’ and to really push forward and stay focused,” Caleb said. Connor credited their success to “dedication to God first and then family, and we haven’t compromised on those things even though the opportunity has risen.”
“God’s making it all work out in a way that pleases Him, and in a way that serves others with what we love to do,” Caleb emphasized. Their mission really is all about bringing their beliefs into their daily lives.
So, the next time you enjoy a chilled jar or steaming mug of the Front Porch Special or Briar Patch Brew, take time to appreciate the Master Hand which blended the people and circumstances together and caused the leaves to grow to bring you the perfect cup of tea.