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6/19/2003

Leaving the station

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — A little more than three years after opening its doors, the Tea Train in Longmont is closing here and reopening under a new name in Boulder.

It’s part of a plan that owner Paul Cattin has had ever since college. In researching potential locations for a specialty tea house he planned to open, “it basically pointed to Boulder, Colo.,” he said.

But when he arrived from Minnesota, he quickly realized that Boulder is a very expensive place to do business.

“It was a new concept, and I was fresh out of college,” Cattin said. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to pay so much in rent that it would swallow me up in the first couple of months.”

Instead, Cattin discovered the Village at Burlington shopping center — fairly new at the time — and he launched in Longmont. The store’s unusual nature quickly drew a strong local following.

But Saturday night will be the last call for the Tea Train, and Cattin’s new place in Boulder will open next Wednesday under the name Pekoe Sip House.

“We kind of just wanted to go with a branding strategy that would kind of incorporate a total look and feel, and which will basically allow us to expand and grow under one name,” Cattin said.

He said that along with the name change, his new location — in the Ideal Broadway Shops center at Broadway and Alpine — will feature a different physical look and new teas and drinks, along with favorites his customers have enjoyed since opening here in the spring of 2000.

Cattin’s idea for the Tea Train was hatched while he was attending the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. His obsession with coffee shops and his employment as a part-time tea house manager collided to provide the inspiration.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the coffee shop concept,” Cattin said, adding that much of his off-campus college life was spent in the local St. Paul coffee shops. “When I started working at the tea shop, it was one of those coincidences where I was able to look for ways to blend the two concepts.

“I wanted to do something that would broaden our market a little bit — make tea the cool thing to be doing.”

Cattin, who said he used to be a “huge coffee drinker,” began to learn more and more about the health benefits of tea and eventually stopped drinking coffee altogether.

And he figured others might see the same appeal. “We’re just trying to do with tea what Starbucks did with mocha,” Cattin said.

While the Pekoe Sip House will be similar in size to the Tea Train, Cattin said he will be increasing his hours and adding staff members in anticipation of increased business.

The selection of teas, which helped the Tea Train be named Westword magazine’s “Best Tea” in April of last year, will only get better at the new place, Cattin said.

“I find very few people who are able to bring in the types of teas we’re able to bring in,” he said. “One of the new teas we’re adding is one of the top three teas in China.”

Even in Boulder, Cattin said, he doesn’t see a lot of competition for a place like his. “Obviously, (the Dushanbe Tea House) still serve(s) tea, but I feel they’re more a restaurant than a true tea cafe,” he said.

Cattin said reaction from his customers has been mixed when they’re told about the store’s move.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some upset customers, but we’ve also had a lot of customers say they’ll come and see us in Boulder,” said Cattin. “We’re actually this week going to be sending out mailings to people who have been on our mailing list, and e-mails to people who have ordered from our Web site.”

He said that for now, www.teatrain.com is still active, although visitors there will soon be redirected once the new Web address is up and running.

Cattin said he is very appreciative of his Longmont customers and the support they have given him, but going to Boulder is the right business move for him, he said, because it fits with his original plans.

And his new Boulder location — surrounded by stores such as Ideal Market, Breadworks and Moe’s Bagels — will only help draw foot traffic to his store.

If Boulder embraces the concept — and it seems a natural fit — further success could lead to expansion of his business, Cattin said. Maybe Longmont will have its own Pekoe Sip House someday.

“Our plans at this point are to focus on our Boulder location as our flagship store, and then to look at the possibility of multiple locations,” said Cattin.

Whether his Longmont customers follow him to Boulder, he said, is a risk he is taking.

Becky Wiens and Linsey Layman sat in the Tea Train on a recent afternoon, sipping a green tea and a fruit tea, respectively.

Layman said she hadn’t been in the Tea Train before. “I wish I had, because I’m sorry to hear they’re moving.”

Asked whether they would visit the Pekoe Sip House, their reaction may have been representative of other Tea Train customers.

“I probably won’t — I don’t go to Boulder that often,” said Wiens.

“I like the Breadworks right there, so I’ll probably go there,” Layman said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.