inca tea keeps it local with new café at hopkins airport

It’s only been 10 months since Ryan Florio decided to follow his dream and start Inca Tea. The startup offers a selection of bagged teas blended from an ancient Inca recipe. Florio developed them from what his Sherpa created for him and his friends while hiking in the frigid mountains of Peru.

That dream has proven to be a harbinger of good things for Florio. Since opening for business in February, Inca Teas is in more than 200 grocery stores and cafes, as well as the top 10 Bed Bath and Beyond stores in the country. He’s beginning to expand east and south of Ohio.

“My dream was to be in 50 grocery stores in my first year,” says Florio. “We’re in 200 already and I just picked up two more major distributors. We’ll be in 300 to 400 locations by 13 months.” Inca Teas are all-natural, non-GMO and grown without toxic pesticides. The packaging is made from 100 percent post-consumer product, completely bio-degradable and printed with soy ink by a Cleveland manufacturer.
And last Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, Florio opened his first café in Cleveland Hopkins Airport. “I had no desire to open up a freestanding storefront,” he explains. But when airport officials contacted him a month ago about opening, Florio saw it as a way to showcase his teas and Cleveland’s growing food production industry.
In addition to his fresh-brewed, all-natural tea made from anti-oxidant and nutrient-rich purple corn, Inca Tea Café Cle sells local food products from companies like Good Greens, Bearded Buch, Lilly’s Handmade Chocolates and Garden of Flavor. Erie Island Coffee will be joining the mix soon. Florio met all of the other food producers through demonstrations at Heinen’s, and personally convinced them to carry their products in the café.
Florio admits he was flying blind during the opening holiday weekend, but business was good and well-received. “I was learning on the go because I’ve never run a retail space before,” he says. The café, which is made entirely from recycled wood and metal, got a lot of attention too. “I got amazing reactions from people as they’d walk by, from airport employees to flight crews to passengers.”
Florio hired three full time employees to help with the café, and plans to hire two more next week. He also uses seven interns to help run the retail end of Inca Tea, to teach the ins and outs of starting a business and to conduct store demonstrations. “I want to help them learn about the growth of a new business in Cleveland and the hard work that goes into starting a new business,” Florio says.
Florio credits his parents for tremendous support – turning their North Royalton house into a makeshift warehouse and production facility and packaging tea for him. Now they are getting their home back. Florio, who has a space in Midtown for materials and blending, recently secured office space in Westlake.
Florio’s most memorable encounter of the weekend was a married couple. The husband said he was a coffee drinker, but Florio convinced him to try his Twantin black tea. “He was so intrigued, he bought a box,” Florio recalls. “Then he came back from the gate and bought two more boxes. Later that night he placed an online order for nine more boxes. That was my biggest sale by one person.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.