Since its start in 2014, Green Business Network (GBN) member, Inca Tea has made its way into over 300 retail outlets including Bed Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, and Earth Fares, Heinens, Mustard Seed and Amazon. Inca Tea has also proven itself to be a revitalizing force in Cleveland’s local economy. With locally sourced packaging, food products and employees, everything about Inca Tea is Cleveland-bred, which is something founder and Parma, Ohio native Ryan Florio takes pride in.
“There’s really no other tea company in the country that can honestly say they do everything locally, “ says Florio. Though initially reluctant to open an Inca Tea café in the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport due to a lack of restaurant experience, Florio soon found the rented 50 square-foot airport café which Florio pays $1,000 a month to rent to be invaluable in terms of exposure and collaboration with other local businesses.
“I was thinking to myself if I can have a café for a relatively inexpensive cost, have 800,000 people pass by and look at my brand for $1,000 a month, break even and offer jobs to the community, to me that’s a success,” says Florio. In 2017, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport approached Florio about opening a larger, second location on another concourse within the airport which gave Florio the opportunity build a true café.
“I jumped on the opportunity. Even though the rent is four times as much, I can now have a much larger menu selection that caters to people who are looking for those healthier food options. So we have organic juices and sports drinks, coffee, breakfast bars, popcorn, ice cream, and chocolate.”
Florio’s separate company, Burning River, does packaging for Inca Tea and other small tea businesses. Burning River owns 20 percent of Inca Tea and uses recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials for its boxes and tea bags.
The only parts of Inca Tea that is not sourced from Cleveland are the ingredients for the tea itself, (the chief being purple corn), which Florio stumbled across during a fateful trip to Peru in 2014.
While on a hike through the Peruvian mountain trail, the guide who led Ryan and friends, Zach and Phil through the journey prepared an ancient Incan tea recipe consisting of purple corn and sliced apples. Purple corn, a highly nutritious crop originating in Central and South America, contains antioxidants and has demonstrated anti-inflammatory capabilities. The ancient tea was so impressionable and invigorating that Florio took the recipe back to the States and resolved to start his own business which his friends are still involved in.
Today, Inca Tea comes in a variety of six blends including its signature Peruvian Spice Berry, and ancient touches to traditional green, black and chamomile teas. Each Inca Tea blend is made with purple corn, Non-GMO, gluten-free and the business itself is certified by the Rain Forest Alliance for its sustainable practices.
One of Inca Tea’s warehouses is located in Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood, one of only two areas in the city possessing historic, pre-WWI architecture and yet still, a community struggling to bounce back from economic crises. Last year, News5 Cleveland reported on Florio’s purchase of seven vacant properties, which he hopes will contribute to Slavic Village's financial development.
Since 2014, Inca Tea has grown in both popularity and profits; the business is projected to make $1.2 million this year and Florio just began paying himself a monthly salary. But before its ascent into retail stores, the airport, and the World Tea Expo where Florio spoke in 2015, Inca Tea was a passion project that too hard work to get off the ground. To finance Inca Tea, Florio cashed out his 401 (K) from his previous prior medical device sales job and took out a second mortgage on his parents’ home where he first began housing Inca Tea’s supplies. His parents, though skeptical at first, have been his biggest cheerleaders.
“My parents are my biggest supporters and they believe in what I’m doing 100 percent. Anytime I get a big order and I need help at the warehouse, the first people that offer their time is my parents. I count my blessings everyday for their support.”
Giving back is also a part of Inca Tea’s vision. Florio is a board member on the American Heart Association's (AHA) Go Red for Women initiative which promotes awareness and education about cardiovascular disease and its disproportionate impact on women. Inca Tea has participated in raising money for Go Red for Women and remains connected to the AHA.
“I’d been a serial entrepreneur my whole life, but with all the businesses I started before I can look back on hindsight and say that I truly wasn’t giving 100 percent. Inca Tea is the first business that I’ve truly given 150 percent every single day and it’s shown that through it’s growth."
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