Maryam Sohbati and Kaveh Jafari at their tea house.
Mocton, Canada (Huddle) – Stepping into Kaveh Jafari and Maryam Sohbati’s tea house on 575 Main St. feels like entering a scene from Alice in Wonderland. But it’s not just colourful and cute, it also offers a menu that you won’t find anywhere else in Greater Moncton.
K&M Saffron Tea House opened earlier this month, selling teas using herbs the couple has brought from their native Iran.
Think Iranian borage flowers, bitter orange flowers or tea harvested from the mountains of Iran in your cup, served with a syrup that’s flavoured with saffron, a spice commonly used in Persian dishes but a very expensive ingredient out of its native region.
Jafari, a pharmacist in his home country with an MBA from the University of Toronto, says he wants to introduce natural herbs used in Iran to Canadians; opening the tea house is the first step of that plan.
“From the very first years of university, I was interested in herbal and traditional medicine,” he said. “My business plan was to introduce herbal medicine and natural products and supplements to prevent people from getting sick because most of the time people are going to pharmacies or buying the drugs to cure their pain and disease, but I think it’s better to keep the people from getting sick.”
“We are not going to say that here is a pharmacy. We are not physicians. We are just giving the chance of drinking some tasty and natural things to the people that can help prevent them to have the same things but with artificial [ingredients],” Jafari added.
Since the herbs are not as well-known in the New Brunswick market, they decided to serve them in a more familiar format such as tea and lattes. Besides, they realized the herbs would’ve been consumed as tea in Iran anyways.
The business also offers an Iranian sweet treat called Halva, cakes, creme puffs, sandwiches, salads, milkshakes, and juices. Sohbati makes them herself, using no artificial ingredients, she said.
The sweet treats are about $3 each, while the salads and sandwiches are between $4 and $5. A small pot of tea, enough for two people, costs $5. Other drinks cost between $4 and $5.
Sohbati, who studied mathematics but later followed her passion to become an interior decorator, added many splashes of colour in the tea house. She also added a baby room for customers who have young children.
“Most of the time, here it’s winter. I try to bring spring inside,” she said of the bright decor.
Jafari and Sohbati initially came to Canada with their children in 2007 to continue their post-graduate studies in Toronto. In Tehran, Iran, Jafari ran his own pharmacy. He took the MBA program because he wanted to know more about business regulations and build a more global network.
They returned to Iran after their studies. But their daughters, growing up with good memories of Canada, wanted to return and continue their schooling here.
The family decided to move back through the investor and entrepreneur immigration stream. They decided to come to New Brunswick because of the lower cost of business and real estate. The deposit the provincial government required business immigrants to make was also among the lowest in Canada.
“It’s a good time, [a] good place to go, high potentials, low investment, let’s do it. This was in 2013,” Jafari said.
But their plan to get the business up-and-running by mid-2015 was stalled by long wait-times and difficulties getting their permanent residency status.
Once in Moncton, they also faced difficulties finding insurance providers for new businesses in the area and began to look at Ontario for options instead.
Now that the tea house is open, Jafari hopes to connect with business people who want to partner up or help him expand his business in other ways.
“If you are standalone, you cannot do business. People coming and giving a chance for some kind of cooperation and collaboration, that’s business. And we’re looking for that,” he added.
They envision bringing their herbal products to larger retailers and pharmacies. Down the line, they also want to build a manufacturing facility in Moncton to formulate products and medicines using the herbs and package them for sale in North America.
“I assume that here in Moncton is better, because it’s somehow the centrepiece of Atlantic Canada, and it’s very close to Quebec and the U.S.,” he said.
Jafari hopes his long-term plan will create jobs that will help young people stay in New Brunswick and attract newcomers.
Jafari and Sohbati are already in the process of hiring servers for their tea house as their daughters, who are helping them, will return to school at the end of the summer.
K&M Saffron Tea House is open every weekday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 1-6 p.m. on weekends.