Why we love him: For his infectiously kind and friendly personality — and his world-class tea business
During an unseasonably warm January afternoon, burgeoning tea entrepreneur Sky White and I stroll through Washington Park conducting an interview. In the span of an hour it becomes clear to me: Sky White is very famous. On two separate occasions, two people with professional cameras stop White and ask to take photos of him, not with him. He flashes a goofy smile and we’re on our way. He says this sort of paparazzi behavior happens all the time and that people either recognize him for his band, Foxy Shazam, his tea company, Wendigo Tea Co., or his beard — he has a rather epic long, dark beard that sometimes gets him flagged at the airport.
Although Foxy went on hiatus in 2014, touring with the band is what built White’s ongoing passion for tea. “Just imagine having an eight-hour work commute every day. You have an awesome job, but you’re traveling constantly. You don’t have your friends, you don’t have a comfortable place to sleep, you don’t have clean bathrooms, you don’t have any of the things that make you human,” he says. “Shows were awesome. The fans were awesome. But during the day, my thing was to search out really nice tea. So 10 years of 200 shows a year, going and trying to find good tea. I’ve literally had thousands and thousands of different teas from around the world.”
The day after the band decided to quit touring for a while, White decided to launch his boutique tea company. “I cleared out my life’s savings,” he says. “I just bought enough tea, figured out how to build a website and everything I needed to start a business while it was being shipped from China and Japan.”
A lover of all things sci-fi, White named his company after the mythical, antlered, cannibalistic Wendigo spirit. In fact, all of his teas have monster-themed names: Yeti White Tea, Bigfoot Black Tea, Nessy Jasmine Tea.
White ships most of his teas through an online ordering system, but Wendigo brews can be found on menus locally at Urbana Café, Collective Espresso, Skeleton Root winery, Flipdaddy’s and Quan Hapa. He might soon expand to locations in Colorado, Nashville and Pittsburgh.
The hype surrounding his teas are founded; he tries to use the most premium estate leaves in his products. His FireBird Chai smells delicious, and when the leaves and spices are immersed in hot water, they bloom. “It’s like making a cocktail out of all top-shelf liquors,” he says.
CityBeat: What aspects do you love about your job?
Sky White: It’s creative and fun. I get to do whatever I want with it, this little tea business. I just started from nothing. And now I can take time to myself and do creative things outside of that, or I can put a lot of time into it and grow the business.
CB: Finish this statement with five of your favorite things: “I love…”
SW: I love tea, I love piano, I love relaxing with friends, I love sci-fi shows. What else do I love? Doing interviews in parks.
CB: What do you love about Cincinnati?
SW: We’re in a renaissance in arts and food and beverage. We have phenomenal restaurants popping up constantly. I’ve spent most of my adult life traveling around the world, and I’ve never experienced something with this much change and this much quality all at the same time.
CB: Name someone who inspires you and tell us why.
SW: When I was a kid I saw a band called Tub Ring. They’re from Chicago. It was heavy, mathy, nerdy songs all led by a keyboard player, Rob (Kleiner). He played so violently and strange that by the end of the show he was tearing keys out of the keyboard and there’s blood flying everywhere. I’d already been playing music for a while, but I’d never seen a keyboard player lead a show like that. It was one of the things that shaped the way I learned to play music and the way I perform. That band was the first band to take Foxy on a national tour, seven years later.
CB: What is a phrase or motto you live your life by?
SW: I got two of them. One of them is: How do I not fuck this up, when I have a situation that’s a really cool thing that I want to accomplish but I have no idea how to do it? Literally everything for the tea business — I have zero food-industry experience, so I mess up everything all the time, but then I eventually get it right. This other one: Don’t be afraid to be great. Two very different kinds of statements that are really saying the exact same thing.