Sisters JennaDee Detro and Abianne Falla, founders of CatSpring Yaupon, aren’t just brewing tea; they’re rebuilding lives.
By Victoria Stowe
“There was a drought about six years ago,” Abianne Falla, co-founder of CatSpring Yaupon remembers. “Everything out there was wilted spinach, even 100-year-old oak trees, but the yaupon was surviving.”
Realizing there might be something special about this plant that grows near their family’s property in Cat Spring, Texas, Falla and her sister, JennaDee Detro, started researching. They discovered a legacy of yaupon consumption spanning millennia. The only naturally caffeinated plant to grow wild in North America, yaupon is filled with natural, nutritious properties like antioxidants and polyphenols.
“Most of the landowners in our region are literally bulldozing this [plant]to clear land, totally unaware of its benefits,” Falla says. “[JennaDee and I] both thought there might be something to this plant, so we started experimenting with different preparation methods, and it tastes really good!”
The sisters started with small-batch processing to gauge interest and, once requests began streaming in, they invested in their own facility in Katy, Texas, which they have affectionately named the Tea House.
“Four years later, we’re in a position that we’ve basically quadrupled our production year after year, and it looks like a totally different business,” Falla says.
As hard as starting your own company is, Falla and Detro’s job is only made more difficult by the fact that they also have to reintroduce yaupon as an ingredient to the public.
“We realized at the beginning that we can’t be the only ones out there promoting yaupon and educating consumers,” Falla explains, “so, we sell to other, larger tea companies. The biggest challenge has been learning how to build a company—CatSpring Yaupon—while also building out a product category in yaupon.”
Falla and Detro have risen above their growing pains and are embracing their success, winning such designations as Southern Living’s Southern Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year award this May. Unlike most business owners in the beverage industry, the sisters measure their success by more than large profits and awards.
“We have a different goal than some other companies in the sense of how we are creating our company and how we employ people,” Falla says. “We choose to define success as when everyone in our
Their altruistic employment mission began when a friend who worked with an anti-trafficking organization informed Falla and Detro about the difficulties women face in finding a job when they have a felony charge on their record.
“We decided with knowledge comes responsibility, and we would really like to be a bridge out for these women,” Falla says. “We believe that every human deserves a life of dignity.”
To start building that bridge, the sisters created what is today, the lifeblood of CatSpring Yaupon: the CatSpring Working With Dignity program. They started actively looking for people who need job flexibility, whether that’s due to generational poverty or some other aspect of their lives. They even reached out to probation officers who could help them identify individuals who wanted their future to look different than their past.
Due to the nature of their business, and because they have a shelf-stable product, Falla and Detro say they are in the unique position to offer flexible shift schedules.
“It’s a beautiful parallel to me,” Falla expounds. “Here is this plant that is totally overlooked by our community [and,] in the same way, there are so many people in our community who have been written off by society as [not]having value. … One of the hallmarks of that demographic is that they live crisis to crisis, and because our packaging facility is a shelf-stable product, we can be a little more flexible … so that the next crisis that comes up doesn’t have to mark the end of employment with us.”
The sisters currently employ about 12 to 14 people, all of whom work in packaging at the Tea House and harvesting yaupon in CatSpring. When asked what gets her most excited about her business, Falla points to her employees.
“It’s the small successes,” she says. “For example, one of our employees had a flat tire on the way to work and he was able to get it taken care of and still show up. And that is something that would have derailed him when he first started working with us.”
As integral as the Working With Dignity program is to the company, the true philosophy of CatSpring Yaupon involves the idea of curating a moment, and it’s infused into every aspect of the company, from the harvesting and packaging process to the employees to the taste of the tea.
“I think it’s through curating for yourself that you can turn around and find ways to give back in your life,” Falla says. “If our product can help curate moments for our customers, then that’s something we want to be able to encourage people in.”