JUNIUS — In the coming weeks, a local entrepreneur will plant crops for the tasting room he plans to open later this year at 678 Route 318.
Grapes? Not this time. Hops? Barley? Apples? Good guesses all — but all wrong.
Mark Lin and his manager, Ken Perry, are planting tea. If that sounds unusual, it is.
“We are the only ones in New York state,” Perry said. “There’s only, I believe, two or three places right now where tea is grown in this country.”
Lin, who owns Happy Family restaurant in Seneca Falls, sees no reason that can’t change. His new venture, The Finger Lakes Tea Co., will include a $300,000 tasting room and processing facility, along with 30 acres worth of a tea variety called Mao Feng. The name means “hairy mountain,” and it’s descriptive. Small hairs cover leaves that resemble mountain peaks.
“It’s a mountain variety of tea and it’s fairly cold-hearty,” Perry said. “That’s why we picked it. And, it’s growing.”
Finger Lakes Tea Co. will be able to produce white, green, red and black teas for tasting and retail sale, Perry said. It will also carry imported Chinese teas, related products, fine china and dim sum.
“Everything’s going to be run like a winery, but the tea is going to be the focus,” Perry said.
Lin, a native of China, opened Happy Family in the former Henry B’s on Fall Street in 2011. He had previously run a Chinese restaurant in the food court at Waterloo Premium Outlets.
Perry said Lin had long dreamed of opening a tea business too. A longtime customer who became Lin’s business manager, Perry was glad to join the project.
The two have worked with Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension to figure out how best to grow tea in New York’s comparatively harsh climate.
One challenge involved the soil.
“We had to make the soil acidic,” Perry said.
So far, at least, the plants have been doing well. Lin and Perry hope to open by September.
Between now and then, they’ll put up a 7,200-square-foot building to house the operation. Perry said they’ll landscape the site and make it look attractive.
In addition to the tea, they’ll plant about 1,500 Asian Pear trees, commonly known as apple pears. They plan to feature the fruit along with their tea.
“It looks like an apple ... and has almost a tropical-fruit taste,” Perry said. “It’s an odd, very, very attractive taste.”
Perry and Lin hope to capitalize on the tourist trade along with local tea fans. They also see busloads potential customers right across the street at Waterloo Premium Outlets.
“If you’re a tea drinker, you’re probably going to want to stop there and taste our product, because it’s probably going to be quite unique,” Perry said.
Finger Lakes Tea Co. presented its site plan to the Junius Planning Board Wednesday night.
Perry said things went smoothly.
“We have basically tacit approval,” he said. “We have to submit two more pieces of paperwork and get the architect’s seal on our diagram, and then we’re all done.”
Planning Board chairman Tom Hicks said the venture fits well with Junius’ long-range plans.
“It’s a unique and one-of-a-kind project that we’re very interested in,” he said.
The business will employ about 15 people when it opens.
“If it actually does start getting successful, we’ll be hiring,” Perry said. “It’ll be a good-sized industry.”