In 2006, Matt Thomas opened the first Townshend’s Tea on Alberta Street. The shelves were stacked with dozens of jars of loose-leaf teas, listed in hefty booklet menus; the goal was to serve tea in all its forms — boba, pots of chai, and, eventually, kombucha, a fermented tea with light bubbles and a distinct tang. In 2008, the company began producing its Brew Dr. Kombucha, infusing its teas with things like lavender and rosemary as a foundation for its fermented drinks. Last year, Brew Dr. became the overarching brand, and Townshend’s various teashops — now scattered across the state — tightened up their tea list, becoming kombucha destinations first and foremost.
This month, however, all of the state’s tea shops will close, and the company will start to clear out its inventory of loose-leaf teas. By the end of the year, Brew Dr. Kombucha will be all that’s left of Townshend’s Tea.
Brew Dr.’s tea houses have always been a bit of a challenge, according to Thomas. “Every year, rent goes up, cost of tea and materials goes up, labor rightfully goes up to accommodate the cost of living,” he says. “You can only charge so much for tea, and you can’t do dozens of drinks per hour like a Starbucks.”
The tea brand’s kombucha, however, was growing substantially, so they decided to transform their tea shops to be more kombucha-centric. By the time COVID-19 came around, however, keeping the shops open at all didn’t seem responsible or feasible. Thomas hoped the cafes would just remain closed for a few months, when COVID-19 would eventually peter out. Instead, the novel coronavirus retained its hold on the world; when the shops reopened in June, the business didn’t pick up the way he’d hoped. “It’s been about 20 percent of what the revenue was before COVID,” he says. “We’re just not seeing any increase week to week, continuing to lose money. Rent can be deferred briefly, but it still all has to be paid.”
So, Thomas and the rest of the Brew Dr. team decided to close up the tea shops and focus exclusively on kombucha. The Division and Mississippi locations have already closed permanently; on Oct. 18, the Eugene and Alberta locations will close, followed by the Bend locale on the 31st. The tea shop in Bozeman, Montana, will be taken over by local cafe owner, who may or may not hold on to the brand name.
Thomas says the company will try to sell all of the tea company’s online inventory by the end of November, eventually shutting down that site entirely. The company will sell kombucha via grocery stores and Portland delivery, expanding into new cities around the country. “Kombucha sales did go up a little bit in our home market, and we’ve had success in other regions as well,” Thomas says. “There’s a strong awareness of what kombucha is here, but a lot of cities are still coming out of the soda pop era.”
Thomas hopes that, at some point, he can personally get back into the world of teahouses, perhaps in that same Alberta location. But for now, kombucha is where he’s focusing his energy. “This isn’t the end of the story, in terms of us as a tea company — Kombucha is tea,” he says. “But it does bring to a close this chapter of my life and the life of the company. We’ve had these wonderful spaces in these wonderful neighborhoods... We had to make this decision to get out of the teahouse business.”
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2020 has not been our cup of tea. The economic challenges of the past year have forced us to make the previously unthinkable decision to permanently close our teahouses. We opened our first shop back in 2006 with the idea of giving our community a place to have a unique experience exploring the many ways in which tea is prepared. We are sad to leave, but also understand that there is a time and place for everything and it's okay to reach the end of a chapter. We are SO thankful for the friends and memories we have made over the years. ⠀ ⠀ Please stop in and say good-bye if you're in the neighborhood. We will be putting our remaining tea inventory on sale as we close our stores throughout the month of October, so be sure to load up on your favorites. ⠀ ⠀ Yours in tea,⠀ ⠀ Matt, Jake, Laura, Lou, Rachel, Monica, Frank, Carissa, Quinn, Seth, Ray, Jason, Clare, Troy and the whole family from over the years at Townshend's and Brew Dr.⠀ ⠀ --⠀ ⠀ Teahouse Closing Dates:⠀ - Alberta - October 18th⠀ - Bend - Potentially remaining open under new ownership. Stay tuned!⠀ - Division - closed⠀ - Mississippi - closed⠀ - Eugene - October 18th