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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Talbott Teas: How Oprah changed gay owners' lives
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times, posted Dec. 8, 2010
by Ross Forman
2010-12-15

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Their lives changed overnight—make that, in the morning.

On Monday morning, Nov. 23.

Shane Talbott and Steven Nakisher, partners in business and in life, experienced that once-in-a-lifetime business boom when their company, Talbott Teas, was tagged as one of Oprah's favorite things this year.

" [ Monday ] was more exciting than we could have imagined," Nakisher said. "The anticipation was so overwhelming; we could not sit still. We are so grateful for this opportunity. This is truly a dream come true."

Immediately after the segment aired, they looked at each other and Talbott said, "I love you. Here we go." They toasted each other with a glass of champagne and screamed—and scared their dog, Sophie.

The orders have been pouring in ever since, from literally around the world.

"It's been amazing. We have been working day and night to prepare. However, there is no way to really prepare for something like this," Nakisher said. "We are too busy now to think or feel. We are just busy filling orders and loving it. Our office feels like Santa's Workshop."

Talbott, 38, and Nakisher, 41, have been partners for 14 years and live together in Lakeview. They made their commitment to each other official in 2004 in a religious ceremony in front of about 150 family and friends at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.

"We just wanted our chance to have a good old-fashioned wedding like everyone else gets to have ... a rabbi, flowers, cake, a 10-piece band, etc.," Nakisher said. "It was very, very traditional and we loved every minute. It was truly the best day of our lives."

But Nov. 23 has to rank right up there, at least from a professional standpoint. Thanks to Oprah.

"In 2008, Oprah decided to open her retail store, The Oprah Store. It is right next to the studio [ where her TV show is filmed ] and is filled with many of her favorite things that are branded with her name," Nakisher said. "Oprah is an avid tea drinker and has tea sets for sale in the store. Shane decided to approach the store manager and suggested making a special blend of tea to accompany the tea sets."

The manager said she'd take the suggestion to Oprah to see what she thinks. Sure enough, Oprah liked the idea and requested a few samples.

The only guidelines Talbott and Nakisher were given were that she wanted the tea to be a rooibos tea, which is native to South Africa and is naturally caffeine-free, and she loves Earl Grey.

"I went right to my lab and got to work," Talbott said. "I was so inspired and wanted to be creative and knock her cashmere socks off. I had so many great ideas and had dozens of ideas for tea blends inspired by many of Oprah's favorite things. After much sampling and editing, I narrowed it down to six blends that I wanted to present to her.

"My assumption was that she would take a look at the options and decide on one to be a featured blend at the store. To my surprise, she loved all six and said we could make all of them. I was blown away. Those six tea blends have been in The Oprah Store since it opened."

In late October, the two got a call from one of the producers of the show. It was The Call.

"It was a Friday just after 5 p.m., and we were trying to decide where to go for dinner," Nakisher said. "I answered the phone and the producer said, 'Congratulations! Ms. Winfrey has chosen Talbott Teas as one of her Favorite Things!' After the screaming stopped, we definitely had a great dinner that night."

Talbott and Nakisher had about a month to prepare for The Oprah Effect—and it truly has been a whirlwind, they said.

"We took out a loan against our home; we invested every last penny we had; we filled up our credit cards; and we borrowed money from our family. We took the risk. Neither of us slept much this past month," Nakisher said. "We created as much product as we could afford. We worked like crazy on the website. We worked, worked, worked. We focused on the process, and we reminded each other how grateful we were for each other. We had to upgrade and change everything. We even had to move into a bigger warehouse space.

"Needless to say, this will be our best holiday season. We will definitely top any of our past sales goals. It will be a hard to top this year in the future."

Talbott is the company's co-founder and CCG ( chief creative genius ) . Nakisher is the co-founder and president. Talbott is the creative partner; Nakisher is the businessman.

"Shane has had a vision from the beginning about what has been missing in the market for tea," Nakisher said. "I really want to update and modernize the glamour of having tea. I want to brush off the dust of the image of the little old ladies having a tea party with their dainty little flowery tea cups.

"My dream is to create the tea party for the 'Sex and the City' crowd—a cup of couture. I want tea to be sophisticated, fashionable, creative and most importantly, delicious.

"Talbott Teas is truly steeped in style. I work to create unique and creative tea blends that have indulgent flavors and use only the best, all-natural ingredients, no artificial flavoring that is found in most tea."

Talbott Teas are now available at Bloomingdales stores nationwide, The Oprah store in Chicago, several local restaurants, the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City and on the company's website ( www.talbottteas.com ) .

"I know that Oprah is an avid tea drinker and she appreciates the finer things. She also loves the creativity of the flavors and blends. It makes tea approachable and not such a mysterious or unapproachable thing," Nakisher said. "We were instantly introduced to the world [ by Oprah ] . There is nothing better than the Oprah Factor.

Sweet home, Chicago

Talbott moved to Chicago in 1992 to pursue a career as a hair colorist in downtown Chicago. He worked for several years as a colorist on Oak Street until they opened their own Oak Street salon in 2001.

While working as a hair colorist, Talbott always shared his passion for tea with his clients. Shane was inspired to go against the Starbucks culture and created a tea bar inside the Oak Street salon—and created custom blends for his clients.

"My clients have always been my test audience," Talbott said. "They would always give me great feedback to help me perfect the tea blends."

After years of perfecting his blends, the duo started packaging Talbott Teas in 2003—and soon decided to sell the salon and focus on Talbott Teas.

"I used to say that Talbott Teas was Shane's most expensive hobby," Nakisher said.

Talbott replied, "If you follow your true passion, success will come."

Their success, the success of Talbott Teas, has arrived, finally.

"We invested all of our money and every minute we could find to create and develop Talbott Teas. It is truly a labor of love," Nakisher said. "Everyone thought we were crazy. They would say that it's almost impossible to build a successful new product on the market. Thankfully, we are both stubborn."

And a little help from Oprah certainly didn't hurt.

More about Shane Talbott and Steven Nakisher:

—Midwest roots: Talbott grew up near Omaha, Neb. Nakisher grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. They have been in Chicago for about 20 years. "Chicago is truly home for us. It has everything," Nakisher said. "Every time we travel, when we arrive back in the city we always say, 'There's no place like home.'"

—Chicago: Nakisher moved to Chicago in 1991 to go to graduate school to become a clinical psychologist. After graduating, he opened The Center for Personal Development: "I love being a psychologist; however, in my heart, I'm really a closeted entrepreneur."

—Hobbies: Talbott likes to paint, read and do yoga. Nakisher enjoys mentoring: "I've had amazing mentors in my life, so I do a lot of giving back by mentoring younger people with drive and ambition."

—Favorite movie: The Color Purple, for both. Runner-up: The Hours.

—Favorite TV show ( s ) : It's Project Runway and Top Chef for both. Talbott watches everything: "I deal with so many difficult things during the day that I love to relax by watching TV. If anyone really knows me, the question wouldn't be 'What's your favorite TV show.' The real question would be, 'What's your favorite TV show for each day of the week?' Thank God for Tivo."

—Favorite actress: Meryl Streep, for both

—Dream vacation spot: Paris, for both

—Best-selling blends at Talbott Teas: Cocoa Cardamom Seduction, Green Tea Heaven and Blissful Blueberry

—Fun facts: Talbott Teas was featured in the swag bags at the 2009 Academy Awards. Talbott Teas also created a Ruby Slippers Blend for the Warner Brother's 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz in New York City.

—Another fun fact: About two years ago, with the development of the Trump property in Chicago, Shane and Steven pitched a custom collection of tea blends to Donald Trump. Two years later, they were approved to create Trump Tea, which launched earlier this year: www.TrumpTea.com .

—Where did they meet: They met at Big Chicks in Andersonville. Talbott introduced himself and told Nakisher that he only went out to the bars twice a year. Nakisher replied that he, too, rarely went out, although that wasn't completely true. "After our first date, it was clear that we would spend our lives together," Nakisher said.


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