The Random Tea Room Story
Interview with Rebecca Goldschmidt, Owner
Written by Lexus Woznicki
It’s about 32 degrees on an early January morning, and you and a friend hustle into a local tea shop for some much-needed hot sips. It turns out you are not the only ones with this wise idea, and you discover there is hardly any more seating space available. A table for 4 opens up and you jump to grab a seat alongside another patron and guest and sit down together.
While this may seem unheard of, it is just what may happen on busy days at The Random Tea Room in Philadelphia. Not only does the business draw in an array of customers as eclectic as their tea varieties, but they maintain a unique ability to create a space of inclusion and a feeling of community once thought to be solely reserved for small towns.
The business has been successful through this culture of inclusion, beginning with their staff and continuing on to their diverse product offerings of teas, jewelry, and art, to their incorporation of several other local businesses from vegan and gluten free bakeries to massage therapists. They also promote an inclusive space for local and international artists and musicians to share their work by hosting concerts, poetry performances, and book readings.
It’s hard to sum up all that The Random Tea Room (RTR) has become throughout their decade of being in business, simply because they seem to do it all. It is no surprise that people are willing to squeeze in to any seat available. We sat down with owner Rebecca Goldschmidt to learn how this conglomeration of art, massage, food, people, music, and of course, tea, came to fruition and how they manage to facilitate their unique culture of connection and community.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
For the first ten years of business I’ve been driven by my community, providing them with a healthy boost to get through their day and also giving them a chance to pause. More often than not, they shared back some bit of knowledge, offered some form of help to keep me going, or just had the perfect blend of appreciation for what the Tea Room provides. As a new Mom, I now wake up (several times a night) knowing that I can share the Tea Room with my daughter. The effect she has had on my life has helped to transform RTR into a new kind of butterfly.
Please share a victory story — what is a recent challenge that you have overcome, and how did you do it?
Having a baby and dividing my attention away from RTR was a major challenge. I’ve never had a manager before and had previously taken care of most duties myself. Delegating was a real challenge for me, it is something that I have been slowly improving on over the years, because well, I can’t do everything all the time! Luck was on my side because I had a long-time customer, Corinne, who had shared her stories of life, work and joy with me. I had the feeling that we could help each other out in more ways than one and I was right. I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator and am grateful that I had been challenged enough to trust someone else to take care of my first baby, the Tea Room.
What’s your personal networking strategy and what role does your community play in the success of your business?
When I had more time, I would volunteer or participate in different organizations like the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild or Philly Socialists. Coming from a background in art has been very helpful with networking as well. I personally believe there is an art to most things that we do in life and am in awe of those that refine and master their skills. I have organized art festivals on the Tall Ship Gazela, helped sow the community garden with the Philly Socialists and promoted the art and heart of others in our rotating Tea Room art gallery, which in turn brings the love back many fold. The members of these communities continue to interact with RTR and are like family.
An excellent example of this is my friendship with Koofreh Umoren. We met on the Tall Ship Gazela on a sail to Red Hook, Brooklyn. I was volunteering and he was playing trumpet with the cabaret that was performing on deck. It wasn’t until a sailing trip one year later that our friendship solidified during an exploration of the Brooklyn botanical garden while we were docked in TriBeCa. In addition to his musical talents, he is also a talented photographer and videographer, which meant that he brought his camera and lots of pictures were had. Since then, he has been a roommate, collaborator, and creative director of The Random Tea Sessions, music video sessions taped in the tea room when we are closed.
Can you walk us through one of your triple bottom line practices and the impact it has had on your business?
Sometimes even the smallest of decisions create an energy for change. I try to instill the idea of low waste and minimal excess at as many levels of my business as possible. I try to do as much work in house as I can; printing menus, business cards and hand drawn signs encourage my staff to be creative and keeps our footprint as small as possible. Reuse is also very important, we recycle many of our containers for useful storage instead of buying new bottles and boxes. We’re also promoting a new bottle deposit initiative for our bulk chai gallon— when customers return the bottle they receive a free chai on the house. We also offer a tin reuse discount for our loose teas, providing our customers a bonus for being conscious.
At RTR, reuse and recycling is a multi-layered practice and we are happy to communicate its importance to our customers so they can then bring it into their homes and community.
Can you tell us about your ideal day off in Greater Philadelphia, and where you would spend it?
Pre-baby I always had Monday off, and it was the perfect day to buzz around the city on my bike. I loved hitting up the Reading Terminal Market. I had a rule of only getting as much as I could fit in my pack, which made purchases very thoughtful. Later in the day I would ride to Emerald Street Urban Farm where a community of locals lovingly grow produce with the help of their neighbors and share with volunteers. I would usually have a plume of greens overflowing out of my pack. I would then ride home with my bounty and make a massive amount of food, to eat for the week or just share with friends.
We know that it’s not always easy to brag about yourself — what is one thing that most people do not know about your business that you would like them to know?
The Random Tea Room is a tea room like no other. This is not a lace doily, white glove, pinkies out, cucumber sandwich with the crust cut off tea room!
RTR is an eclectic one-of-a-kind space that features an international spectrum of tea and herbs. Our unique style and diverse menu combine to create a cozy home for delectable tea and community.
In addition to tasty beverages, we also offer live entertainment in the form of concerts, poetry, puppet shows and book readings. We do pretty low key, experimental sets and have had some truly amazing performances. We also offer healing beyond the cup with a wellness space behind the store — we have a variety of practitioners with talents that range from acupuncture to Lomi Lomi Hawaiian massage.
RTR does not actively pursue mainstream marketing and relies on word-of-mouth promotion from our community of customers. We are grateful for our customers that find us and that they pass the word on. We were recently “found” by FYI on channel 6ABC Philadelphia and the Tea Room was featured in a short news story about the health benefits of Kava Kava. Also, earlier this year CNN listed the Random Tea Room as one of the 11 best teahouses in the world!
Fostering community and conversation is also important to us and we encourage people to talk to us and to each other when they are enjoying their time at the Tea Room. I can remember a Sunday evening that four strangers were “forced” to sit with each other due to how busy we were and they started a game of cards and spoke with each other for hours. They exchanged information and met again on another evening. I enjoy that new friendships are formed and good energies are shared here. I believe our inclusive energy brings the most amazing people to us to share and grow. Many thanks to them for coming and being a part of this space and for taking a small piece of it to share with others when they leave.
Visit http://therandomtearoom.com/ to learn more about the Random Tea Room.