By Victor Ochieng
A 28-year-old millennial is on her path to becoming a millionaire, and nothing is going to stop her, considering her drive, grind, ambition and courage. She owns Ellis Island Tea, a brand born from her family recipe, and is already on the shelves of major stores across the country.
Nailah Ellis started by using a portable ice cooler to sell $8 bottles of the tea before she landed groundbreaking deals with major brands such as Whole Foods, Meijers and major U.S. airports, getting some of the deals within a short period after starting her business.
Rolling Out spent some time with Ellis to learn how she started off. In the interview, she talked about her journey to success; how she dropped out of college and decided to pursue her desire of bringing her family tea recipe to the big shelves.
Ellis said she started her business almost eight years ago. She originally wanted to go to school, earn a degree, work her way to Wall Street, make and save some good money before quitting and delving into entrepreneurship, her true dream.
However, during her first year in college, she got to understand how college loans work. She did her math and figured that by the time she would be graduating, she’d have a debt of between $80,000 and $100,000, a loan she’d have to repay for almost half her life. Her question then was: “Why not just go for my true dream?” Conscious of her age and the fact that she didn’t have so much responsibilities, she decided to drop out of school and go back to her home in Detroit. It was time for her to take a business risk. Ellis spent some time in her mother’s basement putting down some business ideas.
The beverage industry stood out since it didn’t require huge capital and she also had a unique family tea recipe that she was quite passionate about. The other business idea she considered was Adult Foster Care, but this needed much higher capital. With the tea idea, she only needed to walk into a store, purchase some tea bags and embark on her trial phase.
That’s how the journey began. To get the exact recipe, she’d to fly to New York to her father, since it’s him who knew it well. “It was my great-grandfather’s recipe. He gave it to my father before he died. My dad would make it for different family events and people would just go crazy over it.”
Ellis dream account was Whole Foods. “Like with the whole college thing, instead of taking a long route because I’m scared to go approach my dream account, I just walked into a Whole Foods and I said, ‘What is the process for getting on the shelves?’” After earnestly following the process, she finally got her tea on Whole Foods shelves. The tea did so well on the shelves that she “got a call from another Whole Foods saying they were interested.”
Ellis Island Tea has done so well over the years that now they’re “in Whole Foods all over the Midwest region and we are also in all of the Meijer stores across six states. We own our production operation and we are now in airports. We’re getting ready to be in six airports, including Atlanta, Texas, Detroit — we’re already in Detroit — New Orleans and Milwaukee. We’re being on-boarded as we speak.”