A Conversation With the Entrepreneur Behind the Near Southside's Newest Tea Shop

Tina Howard

Tea Time for Near Southside

Anyone who knows tea understands there’s a big difference between the mass “dust bags” at Walmart and 50 varieties of loose tea picked from the far corners of the world and steeped in an Alpha Dominche Steampunk brewer. With that distinction, entrepreneurs Tina and Todd Howard hope to draw the enlightened tea crowd, while educating the rest of us at their new place, Leaves Book and Tea Shop in the hot Near Southside.

So far, so good. After a raucous opening Sept. 1, Tina Howard said they've had a steady stream of customers from as far as Arlington and Dallas. “There are not many tea shops here. We went to Portland and New York to do our research.”

The Howards’ place is in the Dickson-Jenkins Lofts & Plaza, a renovated 1927 building at 120 St. Louis Ave., just north of Broadway Baptist Church. Along with Leaves, Dickson-Jenkins developer Eddie Vanston recently added the new location of the established vinyl store Record Town. “We waited for this space,” said Howard, 41, who self-funded the shop. “I feel we’re finding a balance of redevelopment and gentrification here.”

By “we,” she means more than 50 local entrepreneurs who meet monthly to exchange ideas and support each other.

Her idea for the shop developed in a thoughtful process. In a book club, Howard and her friends lamented the closing of Barnes & Noble stores locally. Already an established entrepreneur as a photographer and online book blogger for publishers, Howard said she and her husband wanted to enter the book space, but with a broader look to the community. “My husband and I are community builders,” she said. “We wanted to create a space where we could gather.”

The couple thought hard about their approach as they watched another bookstore nearby — The Last Word — close in just 14 months. The couple didn’t want to compete in coffee, so they started looking at tea. “If you’d asked me three years ago, we would be equal parts tea and books. But we’re really a tea shop. Tea is what’s drawing people in.”

The shop offers more than 50 choices of loose tea — from the traditional Earl Grey to a complex Texas Breakfast blend. Teas come in black, green, herbal, oolong and chai and are served hot, cold, as a latte, in a flight and sparkling. The leaves are sold separately for the home. 

Leaves sells baked goods from Stir Crazy and Three Danes bakeries and lunch boxes from the Meyer and Sage culinary company. The shop offers more than 250 individual titles of books. The shop can also special-order books, like it did its first week open for a book club.

Some community events like book signings are in their future, but Howard is intent on keeping the place laid-back and not overscheduled. No Wi-Fi is offered. Down the road, Howard hopes to add evening hours and tea cocktails.

By Teresa McUSIC