We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Harlan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I had been a corporate employee for most of my career but knew I would be leaving. I knew that I wanted something different but was not sure what the next thing was going to be. During this time, I visited London with my family who loves to travel and try new things. We visited a number of tea rooms during our trip and those visits quickly became the most enjoyable and memorable part of our trip. It inspired me to create something similar in my neighborhood. I started writing my business plan on our flight home. I wanted a place for people to gather and enjoy a tradition with my own modern touches. I am also vegan and gluten-free and have had a very hard time finding places that cater to people with allergies, so I wanted to create a place where people don’t have to worry about what is on the menu. I had been a business leader in customer service and retail operations in my past corporate roles, but had a lot to learn on the path to opening my Tea Room. My work history has consistently been in the areas of customer experience with noted businesses such as Disney, Southwest Airlines and Verizon Wireless. Having a very clear vision of what I wanted the customer experience to be has always been in the forefront of my planning.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When I look back over my professional career, it’s been all about customer experience and leading others. I’ve been a people leader throughout my entire corporate career of 20+ years. I really enjoy connecting with others and collaborating to work toward shared goals. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from working with some of the top companies that are hyper focused on the customer experience: Verizon, Southwest Airlines and Disney. During this new business endeavor of my own, every day has been a learning experience and I’ve grown so much. I have realized that my knowledge and understanding of what makes a positive and memorable experience has been something I’ve been developing for over 20 years. The very specific experience I want to create for my customers at Drink Me! Tea Room is what drives me to pay such great attention to all the little details. I have learned that no small business endeavor is ever easy. Every business owner has challenges and unexpected pitfalls along the way. I believe keeping a positive attitude, a sense of humor and the willingness to get your hands dirty to solve problems is how you keep moving forward. I do feel that the type of energy you put into your business (and the universe) is the same type of energy you get back from it. I love what I’m doing and I genuinely enjoy connecting with our customers. I look forward to growing my new business while continuing to help create memorable experiences for those who come to spend time with us at Drink Me! Tea Room.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
One of my dear friends did, in fact, come for a visit recently! We have to start with breakfast or brunch. Two of my favorite vegan breakfasts are at Pomegranate Cafe and Slim Thick Cafe. Next we head to a bookstore, Changing Hands is a lovely place to spend some time looking for the next great read. Although, to be honest, I’m also a big fan of thrift stores and often pick up amazing old books at Goodwill to add to the Tea Room book collection. That’s one of my favorite ways to spend some down time. I also adore spending time at Zia Record Store looking for vintage vinyl from my wish list. Next would be cocktails. The first stop would be to spend time with my wonderful friend Wendy who owns the Wild Hare Distillery in Tempe. Her place is amazing and offers a tremendous variety of their own distilled product. Another option would be to head over to 36 Below for delightful vegan cocktails surrounded by a beautiful atmosphere. One additional favorite place for cocktails is Undertow. They have fantastic Tiki drinks in a fully immersive experience that is not to be missed! Dinner would be at one of my two favorite spots, Verdura or Picazzo’s in South Tempe. They both have fantastic vegan menus with gluten free options. If we have an entire week I’d also plan to visit the MIM or the Phoenix Art Museum, The Desert Botanical Gardens and definitely take in a show at Gammage (we recently went to see Hamilton!). Being such a music lover, seeing a show at the Marquee Theater in Tempe or the Van Buren in Phoenix is always fun. One of my other favorite things to experience is the different escape rooms around the valley. We’ve completed quite a few but my favorites have been an Alice in Wonderland themed room in Mesa and a Harry Potter themed room at Alcatraz Escape Games in Tempe. I also enjoy live team trivia at different venues around the valley and bringing as many friends as we can gather to better our chances of winning!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Of course the biggest shoutout goes to my amazing husband, family and friends. They have all been so supportive and understanding throughout this crazy journey. They knew it was going to take up all of my time and energy to get this idea off the ground and they have been so great with it, cheering me on the entire way.
Another one of my biggest inspirations comes in book form. Jen Sincero has created the series of “You Are a Bad Ass” books. She is very real in her advice and does it with a sense of humor and enthusiasm. The book, “You Are a Bad Ass at Making Money,” inspired me to take the leap and jump into creating my own business. It had really not been a lifelong dream or something I had been planning for a long time. Once the idea came to me, my business was open within 18 months (a few months delayed due to covid-19). I reread this book series often when I need an extra bit of motivation or a reminder of how capable I am.
Eric and Gizel Bahlman
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