In a clean, friendly, and somewhat fragrant facility on Spice Islands Drive, I met Davidson’s Organics Co-Owner Kunall Patel in his office and we sat around a glass coffee table with different bowls of loose-leaf tea variations inlaid in it. Patel’s office is like the rest of the warehouse- organized, well-functioning and tidy with the comforting smell of spices haunting the halls.
There are a lot of moving parts associated with this large-scale international tea business based out of Sparks, but with a steadfast commitment to quality and ethical practices, Patel appears to be relaxed and always focused on the big picture.
The company was founded in 1976 by John and Sharon Davidson who started selling spices out of their garage. A decade later, they outgrew their space and leased a 20,000-sq.-ft. packing facility in Sparks. A few more decades later, the couple was looking to retire.
Being third generation Indian tea farmers and into the export business, the Patel family was largely known in the niche tea industry and wanted a space where they could expand and vertically integrate their business.
“It was a natural fit to move here,” Patel says. “Sparks allows proximity to everything,” he adds. In 2007, the Patels moved to Northern Nevada, settled down, and worked on reorganizing the company- expanding its product lineup, securing more supply connections, building its customer base, and basically situating the company for growth.
“We stripped (Davidson’s Organics) down to the core and revamped it,” Patel says. “We realized if we could make this happen then we’d be the first vertically integrated tea business in the U.S.,” he adds, on the goal to house all sourcing, manufacturing, blending, distributing, packaging, and shipping from one location. Patel explains that the majority of tea companies are just the face of the brand, focused on marketing their specific blends, whereas the Patels wanted to have the ability to bring their products from the source straight to the consumer. The company even helps provide spices, blends, and packaging to other tea businesses who come to them with their recipes. Patel lifts up DHL priority envelope he just received containing a small package of loose-leaf tea and a handwritten note. It was from a Northern California tea business owner urging Davidson’s to send a rush delivery of spices so that they don’t run out of stock.
“People come to me with a concept and we make the magic happen,” Patel says. Davidson’s itself carries more than 300 organically certified ingredients and has around 350 SKU’s (identification codes for individual products) for its tea blends.
Then three years ago Davidson’s realized that it was outgrowing its Glendale Avenue warehouse and it needed more space. It found the 50,000-sq.-ft. facility on Spice Islands Drive and committed to a long-term lease. Patel says the location was not only big enough, he liked that it was close to the Truckee River, the I-80 corridor, and it’s within a short commute to where all of his employees lived. As a food manufacturer, the company also had to abide to certain food regulations and had the ability to renovate the new building to comply with safe working conditions and food-handling standards.
“We are SQF (Safe Quality Food) certified, and used this location to achieve that,” says Patel.
However, the move from Glendale to Spice Islands was not easy; in fact, it was one of Patel’s biggest challenges since he acquired Davidson’s.
At the Glendale location, Davidson’s lease was up in early 2018 and the company went on a month-to-month lease as they started renovation on the Spice Islands Drive facility. They were preparing to move into their new location last summer when the tea industry traditionally slows down, but the transition was anything but seamless. The landlord was trying to kick them out immediately, and the new location wasn’t completely built out yet. Caught in a legal battle with the landlord, Patel braced for shutdown.
“I was telling employees to rack up as much overtime as they could and put money in savings. That’s the only way I could help them,” Patel says as he prepared for the eviction. Additionally, he was telling his customers to go above and beyond their standard orders so that they would be well-stocked in case anything happened and incentivized them with pre-order discounts. He also contracted a backup packer in California.
The potential break in the supply chain was going to affect a lot of people, but despite spending three solid weeks with all hands on deck moving from one warehouse to the other, fortunately there was no break in business, and it all ended up being worth it.
“This added capacity- we needed space, decent work conditions, being accessible to employees and a place where we could show off our facility to suppliers and customers. This set us up for growth,” Patel says. The new warehouse is so dialed in that a large cannabis company recently made an offer to buy the Davidson’s space, but Patel refused.
“I don’t think there’s a day when we don’t stop learning, every day here is something new.”
As far as Patel’s favorite tea, it’s Earl Grey, which happens to be Davidson’s bestseller.
Pulling open a barrel of the loose-leaf tea blend, we took in the citrusy smell.
“How can you not like that?” he asks.
For more information about where to find Davidson’s tea, cocoa, herbs, spices, and more, visit www.davidsonstea.com.