Sippers and shoppers at DAVIDsTEA’s seven Ottawa locations might not be aware that the David who launched the popular tea empire is local native David Segal.
Segal, 34, who left Ottawa to attend McGill University in Montreal, where DAVIDsTEA was founded, has returned to Ottawa with his wife, Emily, a neuro-psychologist, and their daughters, five-year-old Sofia who attends all-day kindergarten at the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS), and two-year-old Hailey.
Segal himself attended Hillel Academy (now OJCS) and said he is happy to be back in Ottawa after living in Montreal, and to be part of the Jewish community here.
“My family is here. My brother is here, and we like the lifestyle a lot. It’s hard to beat the Gatineaus and the Canal, and Ottawa is close to Montreal and Toronto,” he said.
“I definitely support the Jewish community and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he added. “It’s something that’s always with me.”
After graduating from McGill, Segal spent time in Montreal working with his cousin, Herschel Segal, founder of the Le Château chain of fashion stores, who was looking for a small company in which to invest. The younger Segal envisaged “great tea, a friendly environment and a colourful, modern store,” and they launched the first store in Toronto in 2008. A second store in Montreal – where the company is still based – opened soon after. DAVIDsTEA grew rapidly, and now there are now more than 150 stores.
Segal said he thought there could be an engaging retail experience built around the creative blending of teas.
“The vision was to take any kind of herb, fruit and traditional teas and create a tea environment,” he said. “That’s how we started it off, and people liked it.”
“It has been a good ride,” said Segal, who has scaled back his role now that DAVIDsTEA is a public company. He is much less involved in the business, and is looking for new opportunities.
Segal said he has a lot of favourite teas. But, if he had to pick just one, it would be Sencha Ashikubo, a traditional premium green tea from Japan. His second favourite would be Cinnamon Chai Rooibos, a South African herbal tea, one of more than 30 caffeine-free blends available at DAVIDsTEA.
The chain carries more than 150 types of tea, including many kosher options, exclusive blends, limited edition seasonal collections, traditional straight teas and exotic infusions from around the globe. They have the largest collection of organic teas and infusions in North America. There’s Read My Lips, a chocolate mint dessert tea, and Red Velvet Cake, a creation that tastes like its namesake.
There are also more tea competitors now than when he started the company. But Segal welcomes the competition.
“The more people that get into tea, the better,” he said.
Segal’s advice for other would-be entrepreneurs: “Test your ideas to make sure there is really a need in the marketplace for your product. It’s always good to try, but, if it isn’t working, try something else. You have to be flexible. It took me eight years to be an overnight success.”