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Ellis Island Tea brewed in Detroit

Nailah Ellis

Young entrepreneur sells family tea blend

By Raina L. Baker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — “When you drink my tea, I want you to feel healthy. I want you to feel refreshed, tropical, like you’re on vacation,” says Nailah Ellis, owner of Ellis Island Tropical Tea.

“There doesn’t have to be anything bad going on in your life to feel like you’ve escaped.”

The 24-year-old business woman began marketing a homemade exotic tea just a little over four years ago.

A 2006 graduate of Renaissance High School, Ellis went on to pursue higher education at Howard University but left after two years. She said she wanted to get out into the world and start making her dreams happen.

“After just two years at Howard, I was over $30,000 in debt and not doing what I wanted to do.” Ellis says that she’s always wanted to be an innovative entrepreneur. “Everybody’s experience as an entrepreneur is different. No two will tell you that their journey was the same. Society tells us to go to school, get a degree, get a job, pay off your debt and you’re then successful. But I don’t think entrepreneurship can be that structured,” she said.

Watching her brothers’ struggle with keeping jobs in their field was just the motivation Ellis says she needed to start her own business. One brother went to Hampton University and earned a degree in marketing. Another attended Howard and earned a degree in finance. She recalls both ending up in New York doing work in their fields, making a great living but ending up with pink slips soon after.

“I would have been devastated. I don’t know what I would have done. That’s why I didn’t want to put my welfare in somebody else’s hands. I want to be in control of my own fortune,” Ellis said.

The former business management major, whose first name means “one who succeeds,” defines her success differently. She says that once you obtain the degree you have to start all over so she left Howard to start the groundwork and start planting the seeds for her business. “I’m in the process of creating my own reality and I encourage other people to do the same, not just college students,” she said.

Be it luck or fate, Ellis didn’t have to look far for the tools to lay her own groundwork.

In an interview with the Michigan Citizen, she explained that the tropical tea, colored with rosehips and hibiscus herbs and made with natural flavors comes from her Jamaican background.

“My great-grandfather, Cy-ril Byron, passed the recipe down to my father, Brook Ellis. My great-grandfather told my father that the recipe is to be sold, and not told,” Ellis said.

Ellis, who didn’t taste the tea for the first time until she was 17 years old, says even if she told the public the exact recipe, no one could make it like she can.

Ellis’ great-grandfather, a master chef for Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, created the recipe for the tea in Jamaica. After passing the recipe down to his grandson the family moved to Ellis Island in New York, hence the name Ellis Island Tea.

Being young, ambitious and a woman has posed some threats to her business, says Ellis. Simply put, Ellis encourages people not to mix business with pleasure.

“Know that being ambitious doesn’t mean you shouldn’t draw a line,” she says. “One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is mixing business with my personal life, which ended up being a huge set back. I’ve learned from that and will never make that mistake again.”

That experience coupled with her childhood in the city has created a very driven, determined entrepreneur.

Ellis says she experienced a lot of adversity growing up in a single-parent household in a blighted, improvised neighborhood. “I was never that fly kid or the kid with Lunchables. I couldn’t afford it. I had to work for everything which is why I’m so driven.”

Ellis Island Tea is now under mass production in Auburn Hills. The company that produces the tea produces for other companies including Sweet Water Ginger Tea, whose owner, Lisa Bee, referred Ellis to the manufacturing company. The product is on the shelves at 11 stores including several Westborn Market locations, Avalon Bakery, Honey Bee Market and is soon to be shelved at Whole Foods.

“I have a part-time job but I represent a full-time beverage company.” Ellis says she isn’t where she wants to be but she’s continuing her success and her faith is the only thing that keeps her passionately pushing.

“I wake up in the morning and I can say that I have a business. This is my dream and has been since I was in elementary school. I’m happy. Nothing can make me happier,” says Ellis. “I’m just gonna pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on me because this is a good story for the turnaround of Detroit.”

The herbs that Ellis Island Tea are blended with have high concentrations of antioxidants and vitamin C, and has been known to assist with lowering high blood pressure, weight loss, menstrual cramps, digestive problems, headaches, stress relief and more. The beverage does not contain high fructose corn syrup or yellow 5 and is made with 100 percent natural extracts.

For more information, e-mail nailah@ellisislandtea.com or visit www.ellisislandtea.com

 

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