From Market Fest to free market
Entrepreneurs find event is perfect testing ground for their idea
Eagan Market Fest is known for its wide array of produce and live music, but it’s also a hotbed for budding entrepreneurs.
For Terry Danielson, owner of Simmer Down Tea, the market presents a testing ground for his new blends.
“It’s a great opportunity to see if a new tea blend is a winner or not,” the Eagan resident said.
His bubble and iced teas have become a staple for many market-goers who seek it out every Wednesday.
The Taiwanese drink is much like a tea slush mixed with chewy tapioca pearls. Simmer Down Tea offers an American version, which substitutes the tapioca for Gummy Bears. In the last few weeks, Danielson has expanded the bubble teas to include popping bubbles, which are tapioca pearls filled with a fruit syrup.
Not all his teas have been a hit in Market Fest taste tests. One lemon blend in particular was a flop causing Danielson to scrap the recipe.
Danielson founded the business two years ago after traveling to Taiwan for business. While there, Danielson, a senior project manager for Seagate, met a tea house owner who taught him the art of blending and brewing teas.
From there, Simmer Down Tea was born. Danielson converted a former television repair shop in Eagan into a commercial kitchen.
The tiny kitchen becomes his laboratory and sanctuary from corporate life.
Securing the kitchen and acquiring necessary licenses were among the most challenging aspects of launching the business, he said.
Danielson has been fascinated by herbs since he was in college and saw tea as an viable investment. Teas popularity has skyrocketed nationally. Tea sales in the U.S. are expected to grow to nearly $8 billion by 2014 from its current $6.5 billion, according to the Tea Association of the USA.
Each year, Danielson’s teas have become a favorite not only at Eagan’s Market Fest but also the Dakota County Fair and other community festivals.
The company’s products are not limited to prepared drinks. It also sells loose leaf and blooming teas, and tea accessories at national tea expos and on the company’s website www.simmerdowntea.com, which is undergoing a redevelopment.
Danielson said the quality of his tea sets it apart from others in the market.
“A lot of teas are brokered instead of direct,” Danielson said. “I use five distributors who are based in Asia.”
What began as a hobby quickly became a growing business.
Danielson is in the midst of securing space in Eagan for a retail store, which he hopes to open within a year. Danielson envisions a tea house setting in which customers can purchase tins of tea leaves or brewed tea and pastries much like a coffee shop. This tea house would also feature a blending station where people can create their own blends and a tea bar where customers can sample different varieties of tea.
Danielson hopes to one day become a vendor for area restaurants.
It’s a venture that Danielson said he would like to turn into a full-time job, but with the business still in its infancy, it has yet to turn a profit. Danielson predicts that will change within the next five years.
If he is successful in opening a retail location, Danielson said he plans to continue to sell his teas at Eagan’s Market Fest and community festivals.
“I love Eagan Market Fest and the chance to meet people outside of the corporate setting,” he said.
Simmer Down Tea is not the only business to expand beyond Market Fest.
Ruhland’s Strudel House also has found success at farmers markets.
In 2002, Tom Ruhland left his career as a religion teacher to start the business from his Eagan home.
“It started out of passion for food,” he said. “Now I love that it brings something new every day.”
At the time, Ruhland’s goal was to secure a stand at the Minnesota State Fair. But when that became unsuccessful, Ruhland turned his attention to community festivals and the Dakota County Fair where he sold a small variety of strudel.
Today, Ruhland’s Strudel Haus offers 39 varieties of fruit and savory strudel.
Three years ago, the company expanded into retail after customers began asking how to purchase his strudel outside of the farmers markets. Ruhland’s strudels are sold at six delis including Big Steer Meats and Golden’s Deli in St. Paul and at the company’s website www.thestrudelhaus.com.
“I’m not really focused on the mass market because of the logistics of managing so much product,” Ruhland said.
Now the business is branching out again — this time to fundraisers and overnight delivery. Ruhland’s Strudel Haus offers a variety of strudel to be sold as a part of school and nonprofit fundraising efforts.
Ruhland is also working to create an overnight delivery service within Minnesota.