We had the good fortune of connecting with Connie Lacobie and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Connie, what do you attribute your success to?
Focus on my local community. Beyond providing food and drink to customers, I opened the door of my shop to multiple community events, from local artists, to fundraising events, to weekly dance socials, open mic, and the like. I enjoyed this feeling of community and contribution, made me enthusiastic to work every day, and proud of how my place become a well-loved center of the community. Witness to this were the closing days of my cafe – so many folks came by to express their love for my place, myself, and my employees. The last official swing dance and open mic events were epic, packed room affairs with overflow dancing and music in the parking lot and street. I cherish a memory book of postings from all my favorite customers. Establishing community of course also translates to loyal customers, who came back repeatedly to enjoy our teas and fresh-prepared meals. Though I did not profit much financially over the decade the cafe was open, I’m proud to say we were able to run our operations above cost from month 1 after our opening, a very rare feat for businesses in the restaurant industry.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Té House of Tea was founded in 2005 as a vendor at the Houston International Festival. The focus country that year was India, and our home-made chai was a big hit with the Indian community as well as other Houstonians. We opened our shop in 2006 in the Montrose part of Houston, full of artists, free-spirited thinkers, and other interesting neighbors. We were fortunate to cover our operational costs from the very first month in operation, but it was still hard work for myself and my employees. Certainly, I could have made more money with a regular corporate job, but would have had as much fun, reward, and friendships as running my own shop?! When we first opened, we were the only kind of “modern” style tea shop in town, tea was still a new kind of drink for Americans. Tea, though, is the most-consumed beverage around the world, so with Houston’s large international community we had an immediate draw of customers. As we became more popular, a few competitors emerged, so that presented challenges for us. We never tried to compete with them directly, though, we just stayed true to our community principles and persevered with new tea blends and always freshly-prepared foods.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In Houston, definitely take them to the “cafe central”, that is Montrose. Walk them by my old shop’s building on Fairview, dine at the old-standby Empire Cafe, share croissants with them at Common Bond, one of the new entrants in the neighborhood. Then, take them for a stroll along Buffalo Bayou, with a stop at The Dunlavy and its calming bayou overlook. A visit to The Menil Gallery and Rothko Chapel are still a must for out-of-town visitors. Bellaire Boulevard’s Chinatown would be our next step – comfort food at the House of Bowls or Hong Kong’s Cafe maybe, or explore a new place. There’s so many places to eat there, I still haven’t tried them all! The new Levy Park is worth a visit, especially with children. Vibrant grounds, plenty of people-watching, dining at the Houston’s newest bbq joint, the Woodshed. If they like biking, then let’s ride along the Brays Bayou Trail! If it’s the weekend or Wednesday afternoon, stop at the Braeswood Farmer’s Market. Grab a bagel at New York Deli and Coffee Shop. Take them to some old-school diners, like Bellaire Coffee Shop or Avalon Diner. For drinks, bring them to Axalrad in the evening, where they’ll see with their own eyes the broad ethnic and social diversity of our city.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to give a shout out to Cindy Quach, a neighbor and frequent customer, who regularly visited my cafe with her family. Also to Alyson Bell, co-founder of Té, who shared my vision of a community center cafe.