Photo by Shu Yu Lin

Jeff Su poses with a customer as he pours a warm cup of green tea at his downtown shop.

November 16, 2015

CSU alumnus opens Vintage Tea and Coffee downtown

By Shu Yu Lin

It was a quiet day, and not many people roamed the streets. As the door to a coffee shop swings open, Jeff Su feels a breeze blow on his back. The tapping of shoes breaks up the quiet afternoon in the shop.

Su turns around and smiles at his customer, “Hello, what can I get for you?

“Can you recommend me something from the menu?” the woman asked.

“Have you ever heard of Silver Needle? It is a kind of white tea that has a smooth and sweet taste along with an intoxicating aroma,” Su said.

Silver Needle is a tea from China and is one of many unusual tea and coffee drinks available at Vintage Tea & Coffee.

Jeff Su, 25, is a Cleveland State University alumnus who recently opened Vintage Tea & Coffee at 1816 E 12th St. in downtown Cleveland.

“I had always wanted to open a store,” Su said. “My initial plan was to open a tea shop after graduating from Cleveland State University in 2012. Then I realized that it would be more successful if I could combine tea and coffee into one store since coffee is more commonly consumed in Western countries.”

Su started learning about coffee after he graduated from college. He traveled to different cities to discover the best coffee. In 2014, he opened Vintage Tea & Coffee – his first shop – in downtown Cleveland.

Su recalled how he did not like coffee until he had his first cup at Rising Star Coffee Roasters. He realized that there are actually a lot of different coffee beans, more than he could imagine, and discovered his new interest after the barista told him the background of the coffee he had.

“I told the owner of the Rising Star Coffee Roasters about my plan of opening a tea and coffee shop in Cleveland and he liked the idea,” Su said. “He trained me, taught me the knowledge of coffee and showed me different brewing methods such as ice drop, pour over, AeroPress, French Press and espresso.”

Starting up a new business is no longer just for experienced people. An increasing number of entrepreneurs are from the millennial generation.

According to a survey released by Bentley University, millennials — 18 to 34-year-olds — are one of “the most entrepreneurial generations” of all time.

“Except for being my own boss, I thought opening this tea and coffee shop would be a new concept of combining Eastern and Western culture,” Su said. “Also, it’s kind of like an adventure for me and I feel excited.”

Each year, there are approximately 2.4 million college graduates who cannot find jobs in their field of study. This accounts for 80 percent of all college graduates.

With a large number of unemployed graduates, some young people think about becoming their own bosses. They prefer to start their own businesses in the fields they favor.

“I was a business major student and instead of being a normal office man, I wanted to run my own business based on the knowledge that I acquired from school and my background in tea from growing up,” Su said.

According to another report released by the Kauffman Foundation in 2011, 57 percent of millennials would like to start their own business, but only 8 percent of them own businesses now, and only 11 percent plan to start a business within the next year.

Thirty-eight percent of potential young entrepreneurs say that they have delayed starting a business because of financial issues despite their strong entrepreneurial drive.

“The first thing is to get the money,” Su emphasized. “This is the realistic issue of all entrepreneurs.”

“I persuaded my relatives and got the funds from them by showing my strategy and my business plan,” Su said. “I also applied for Neighborhood Retail Assistance Program [NRAP] which is a loan and grant program provided by the Cleveland government.”

Young entrepreneurs face other hurdles besides money. Su had to deal with other issues before his business was underway.

“It took me six months to find the right location,” he said. “I am an immigrant who has only been living in Cleveland for five years, so I have to make connections with people. Then I found this program called [Downtown Cleveland Alliance.] It is provided by a non-profit organization which helps people in location searching for whatever purpose they need it for.”

Su added, “Another problem I had was employee training — how to communicate with your employees and be more convincing to them is really important to the success of your business.”

Starting a business can be fun but a person has to always be aware of the ups and downs. The positives are always met with negatives.

“I always keep the worst scenario in mind,” Su said. “I know I have a solid plan because I am being conservative and careful but open-minded to all situations.”

Su’s coffee shop is one of few locally owned coffee shops in downtown Cleveland. Contrary to other chain stores such as Starbucks, Phoenix Coffee, or Peet’s Coffee, Su said he is “selling quality over quantity.”

“In Vintage Tea & Coffee, we not only offer our customers good tea and coffee but also a more personal connection,” he said. ”We talk to them, tell them the background of the drinks they are having — this brings our customers an increased level of satisfaction.”

Fresh businesses are often slow with revenue. It takes time for them to build a healthy customer base. However, Su’s shop broke even within a year.

“Everything is under control and on track,” he said. “I am happy for what I have and proud of who I am now. I am thankful for the people who support me, help me and encourage me.”

Vintage Tea & Coffee is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The shop is closed on Sunday.

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