Akron native brings passion for tea to Kenmore with SRINA Tea House

When you step into the new SRINA tea and coffee house In Akron’s Kenmore neighborhood, a huge, colorful mural runs the length of the left wall of the business, creating a bright scene of mountainous Sri Lankan tea fields, palm trees and native Sri Lankan birds .

The back wall behind the tea counter is a rich green that coordinates with the leafy tea farm mural, which was designed by The Studio in New York.

“We wanted to transport the customer to a green, natural space,” said owner Monaqui Porter Young, 50. “It’s upscale but really warm.”

Akron native Porter Young opened his first physical location to SRINA tea, the organic tea company she founded in 2002 that offers 52 varieties of tea from Paradise Farm in the rainforests of Sri Lanka. Porter Young, who moved to New York in 1994, where she lives with her husband and three children, grew her business there and has a background in integrative nutrition.

Lee Porter, left, director of SRINA;  Monaqui Porter Young, Founder and Owner;  and tea associates Naomi Boyes and Nina Cameron stand in front of the mural inside the new tea house on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron.  (Photo: Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal)

This week, SRINA Tea House will host a public soft opening celebration from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Friday. A grand opening will take place at 4 p.m. on September 17.

The neighborhood has been anticipating the opening of SRINA for so long that soft hours will continue from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Monday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday as the company completes preparations for its grand opening.

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Tea has long been Porter Young’s passion. On Wednesday, she showed off artwork featuring organic cinnamon and hibiscus that will adorn the walls at SRINA, representing the natural and organic products she’s excited to bring to Kenmore with her teas.

Too many Americans think tea is just Lipton, she said. All SRINA teas are loose and grown without chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides.

SRINA Tea Associates Naomi Boyes, left, and Nina Cameron work in the Tea Lab that will be available to customers at the new SRINA Tea House & Cafe on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron.  (Photo: Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal)

She trained her employees on the history and health benefits of tea. For example, its organic green tea with a ginger-lemongrass-turmeric blend helps fight inflammation and joint pain.

“We spend a lot of time telling you to taste the tea,” said Porter Young, who encourages customers to drink the tasty SRINA teas without sugar or milk.

“A really good tea just needs leaves and water. It’s very simple,” said Porter Young, a graduate of Central Hower High School who earned a degree in theater from Wright State University. “Just give us your palate and entrust your palate to us. You’re going to drink something you’re not used to, but it’s tea.”

Monaqui Porter Young, owner of SRINA Tea House & Cafe on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron, serves up a cup of organic ginger, lemongrass and turmeric tea.  (Photo: Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal)

She serves tea from glass teapots in glass bowls, rather than English-style teacups with handles, so customers can see the tea they’re enjoying.

“We like to drink tea from a bowl,” said Porter Young, whose SRINA logo features three tea bowls.

The SRINA property belongs to the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance (KNA), which emptied the space a few years ago in anticipation of a cafe tenant who ended up not signing a lease two days after the 2020 pandemic shutdown. The SRINA project was carried out by contractor Tucker Building & Design of Wadsworth and architectural firm AOA of Florida, with lantern-like lighting by Lumen Nation in Montrose.

SRINA’s exterior, which once had off-white vinyl siding when it was Zoe Ann’s hair salon, has now reverted to its original brick exterior. The building, estimated to be around 100 years old, also features original hardwood flooring in the back half of the cafe and a refurbished wooden counter.

The opening of SRINA Tea House & Cafe took two years, triggered by a Rubber City Game Schedule $50,000 grant from the City of Akron that allows small businesses to apply for cash grants, technical assistance, private loans and help finding empty storefronts in need of revitalization.

SRINA was supposed to open in December, but the process of securing additional funding has delayed the project, said Porter Young, who needed to raise the original Rubber City Match grant three times to see the project come to fruition.

“Things took forever,” said Porter Young, who said it took work to convince private lenders that a tea house would do well in the Kenmore area.

Pineapple Coconut Chips are a tasty and healthy snack at the new SRINA Tea House & Cafe on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron.  (Photo: Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal)

As the SRINA renovation project continued at 975 Kenmore Blvd., Porter Young opened a pop-up cafe across the street inside the Rialto Theater 18 months ago, which operated for approximately three months. to establish a presence in the neighborhood.

The objective in choosing the predominantly working-class area of ​​Kenmore for the tea house was “to produce a revitalized Kenmore and to create a place that would create value – value for the community, value for the people and value to other businesses and organizations”. said Porter Young. “We couldn’t do it without KNA.”

Public-private partnership was key to bringing the unconventional teahouse business to the community, the entrepreneur said, including the active participation and engagement of the City of Akron and the local community. , represented by KNA.

Tina Boyes, executive director of the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, said that thanks to the 2017 Kenmore Better Block program, the first thing residents said they wanted on Kenmore Boulevard was a cafe.

“This is the perfect opportunity to give Kenmore what he wants,” said Boyes, who emphasized that SRINA is a space where people from all socio-economic backgrounds can connect.

According to a 2019 market study, Kenmore Boulevard Retail Revitalization Strategy, a three-block area of ​​Kenmore Boulevard can accommodate up to four additional food and beverage businesses. It now has two, with SRINA and the night owl on the other side of the street.

“We’re hemorrhaging restaurant traffic,” Boyes said. “People are leaving our neighborhood to eat.”

Porter Young saw establishing SRINA Tea House & Cafe in a community underserved by restaurants and cafes as a good opportunity. In addition to serving food and beverages onsite, SRINA has a retail section selling Sri Lankan teas and food ingredients including ginger, cinnamon honey spread, walnut crisps pineapple coco and coconut chips.

Ginger crisps will be sold at SRINA, a new tea house on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron.  (Photo: Karen Schiely, Akron Beacon Journal)

Porter Young is focused on hiring mostly women at SRINA. Tea associates are Naomi Boyes, Nina Cameron Jasmine Kirk, Jaquae Blair, Faith Perry and Stephanie Davis, all of Akron. Five of them have been trained through the JOBS Culinary Program, a Kenmore nonprofit for at-risk young women ages 16 to 36 that teaches them the culinary skills needed to run a restaurant.

Lee Porter, Porter Young’s cousin, is the director of SRINA.

SRINA offers a breakfast and lunch menu, with dishes prepared off-site by Chef Glenn Gillespie of Edgar’s in Akron. Breakfast items include a lox bagel and tea or coffee ($7.90) and a quiche with tea or coffee. Lunch choices include a jerk chicken finger ($7.75), various salads, and a pulled pork sandwich ($7.25).

Sides range from vegetarian cabbage ($4) to quinoa ($4) and sweets include lemon and chocolate croissants ($3) and raspberry or passion fruit sorbet ($3). The menu is a soft-open version that Porter Young expects to tweak.

Rotating organic coffees will include varieties from Brazil, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and US cities like Seattle.

SRINA, a new tea and coffee house on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron.

One of Porter Young’s goals for his business is to attract 2,000 subscribers to SRINA Tea House & Cafe by December, a 12-month program that costs $200 per year or $16.75 per month. The subscription makes sense for those who regularly eat and drink at SRINA, she said. It includes special tea giveaways, as well as events several times a month with food and drink. Customers can join the Tea Club for free at www.srina.com to receive information on purchasing a subscription, which begins September 17.

Arts and restoration writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@kclawson

SRINA tea and coffee house

Soft open event: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday

Location: 975 Kenmore Blvd., Akron

Additional soft opening hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday to Monday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday until September 16

Large opening: 4 p.m. September 17

Information: 234-334-1599, SRINA Tea House & Cafe on Facebook, http://srina.com

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