Owners: American Tea Room
401 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Yelp: 4.5 stars
Interview Date: Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Randy Arnold and David Barenholtz, owners of American Tea Room, clearly love what they do. When I walked in, both were happily ensconced in work, obviously pleased to be doing exactly what they were doing.
Originally opened in 2003 as Les Palais Des Thes, American Tea Room was a licensee of a French company. “I was in Paris and walked into a store and immediately fell in love,” says David. “It turned out to be a tea store, and I looked into it and soon became a licensee of the company.” After two years as a licensee, David and Randy separated from the French company and eventually re-branded and re-launched as American Tea Room in 2009. “The costs were higher when we went through the French company,” says David. “Plus, Americans don’t know what ‘Thes’ is! Our own brand has been much more successful here in Beverly Hills.”
Since re-branding, David says that the store has become more accessible. “We can afford to give customers better prices because we source directly,” says David. “I travel all over the world several times per year, sourcing tea.” The store also expanded its food and beverage service – offering guests hot and iced teas as well as a selection of delicious pastries. “We have expanded on our strengths,” says David. Currently, they are seeking a city permit to allow them to offer even more café service by having tables and chairs outside on the sidewalk. “It’s quite an extensive process, but it will be well worth the effort,” says David.
Before launching into the tea business, Randy was a Vice President of Marketing for Universal Home Video, and David run multiple businesses, including running an art gallery and developing homes. “I really liked the idea of a retail tea store,” says David. “There really isn’t anything like this in Los Angeles.”
The company employs five plus a graphic designer who “might as well be full time,” says David. The graphic designer is critical because the company has a growing web business selling teas sourced from around the world to customers based around the world. At this point, web sales account for 10-12% of revenue, a percentage that David intends to see grow significantly. The partners are also seeking additional locations. “We haven’t found anything that is just right yet,” says David. “But we’re always looking.”
When I asked David what the hardest part of running the American Tea Room is, he looked puzzled by the question. “It’s really a joy,” he says. “”There is nothing terribly difficult. It’s a pleasure to come into work every day and introduce teas to our guests.”
David equates American Tea Room to a wine bar – offering a large variety of beverage options and a selection of foods designed to pair perfectly with them. He says that they have worked hard to make the tea room gender neutral and not overly “zen.” “We are looking to bring top-quality tea to everyone in a nice setting,” says David. “We’re going for a loungey feel and are slowly expanding our food options to appeal to the foodies.”
For now, the business turns into a full restaurant a few times per year during a Weekend High Tea with waiter service. “It’s a modern interpretation of the high tea,” says David. “We serve many celebrities and VIPs at private parties and special events.” The most popular event for which to schedule a high tea from American Tea Room are birthdays. “We offer tea tasting classes on Sundays from 12-1, which are very popular,” says David.
“The best part of owning this business is dealing with a wide range of customers – producers, directors, housewives, tourists,” says David. “We are able to share something that we’re so passionate about and are proud to be the ultimate tea resource. We can help anyone from a newbie to a very sophisticated tea drinker.”