If you ever find yourself stuck at St. Louis U. High and are in need of some herbal tea, senior Sam Zychinski is your man. Since this past June, Zychinski has owned and operated his very own tea-themed business. Called Gateway Tea, his brand is all about starting the tea revolution.
A quick glance at Gateway Tea’s online shop, and you’d hardly know it was run by a high schooler. Featuring sleek photos and an actual online cart, the website is strikingly professional. On the site, below an invitation to “Join the Revolution,” customers can shop for some of Zychinksi’s classic herbal concoctions, like “Mississippi Mama,” “Fleur-de-Lis,” and “High School Hustler.” He even sells hats, towels, tumblers and tea paraphernalia bearing his logo, the St. Louis Arch dipping into a cup of tea.
In spite of the fancy website that Zychinski has today, Gateway Tea started simply, like most great ideas. An avid tea drinker himself, Zychinski noticed the need around him for a higher quality beverage.
“I’ve been drinking tea since the beginning of high school,” he said. “I used to bring a bottle of tea to every lunch. I’ve noticed that my friends don’t really drink the best stuff all the time, so I thought it was probably wise to promote tea to a younger generation.”
Zychinski’s observation was correct. As more and more bright soda bottles dot the tables in the Commons, tea isn’t something most students think of when they’re thirsty.
His goal was to begin correcting that, and it’s been brewing for a while. The idea for Gateway Tea came to him during his sophomore year, and he’s spent the past months making it a reality. Zychinski credits his work with the Ignatian Business Leaders as one of the biggest ways he grew his idea. Now, he helps inspire others to follow theirs.
“I’ve been thinking about how to get a business running for a while now,” said Zychinski. “I actually run the entrepreneurship wing of the Business Leaders club and my job there is to help inspire other people to start their own businesses and teach them the steps that it takes to run a business.”
True to his mission, Zychinski describes his own business launching process as fairly straightforward.
“I just took two summer camps through St. Louis University and participated in a competition there to get some startup money,” said Zychinski. “When it comes to my website, I just got a Squarespace subscription. Luckily, nowadays modern technology really simplifies a lot of the process, you just have to put in a little bit of time.”
“(Gateway Tea) is super exciting,” noted IBL Moderator Kevin Foy. “Sam has been entrepreneurial since the day he walked in the building. He’s always been involved in whatever entrepreneurial activities IBL has done. He’s really a champion of that division and has been a great leader.”
Since the launch, Zychinski has spent intensive time on social media to grow his brand. @Gatewayteastl is rapidly approaching 100 followers on Instagram. There, Sam posts about his business and keeps his followers updated about events that his tea is a part of around the St. Louis community. After all, he’s made sure to stay true to his roots throughout the process.
“I’ve really focused on St. Louis, I think. I use the tight community of St. Louis to do a lot of my marketing,” he said.
Gateway Tea has partnered with Abigail's Boutique, LeGrand’s Market and Deli, and also Southside Wine and Spirits, all of which are local businesses. He has set up shops at all locations and offered free samples to passersby. In addition, Zychinski’s business promises to donate 5 percent of large orders to a St. Louis area non-profit organization of the customer’s choice.
As Zychniski continues to grow his brand, those close to him continue to find Gateway Tea as a refreshing, wholesome surprise. Band director Jeff Pottinger, who has taught Zychinksi since he was a freshman, couldn’t believe that he was a business owner. Pottinger fondly remembers when he found out about Gateway Tea after commenting about one of Sam’s mugs in his classroom.
“I said: that is a really nice mug’ and he said thank you. When I asked him where he got it, he said ‘that’s funny you should ask, it’s from my company.’ I almost fell out of my chair,” recalled Pottinger. “We looked it up on the website and I was flabbergasted, just super impressed. It’s just such a wonderful thing when people have an idea and they actually do something with it. It’s rare.”
“Sam’s a rare guy in terms of getting to the point where he has real partnerships with businesses and he has a real, consistent revenue stream,” said Foy. “It’s really cool and exciting to have a high school guy doing this in a business that isn’t pure hustle. We have lots of guys that do typical high school hustles but this is not that. This is a fully planned, well executed business model. If you didn’t know Sam was in high school, you’d have no reason to believe he was in high school, and that’s great.”
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