Bonn Bonn tea as lifeblood – Anna Gschwendner and her brother Jonathan run the Bonn family business “Tee Gschwendner” with dedication.
It all began as the “crazy idea” of a very young couple in Trier: the opening of a shop for loose tea in Germany – at the end of the 1970s, when the tea bag was still the preferred option. The young couple, Gwendalina (then 17) and Albert (then 22) Gschwendner, were fresh out of school and wanted to make their dream of having their own tea shop come true. An initial attempt to start selling tea from their own home in Trier failed, but the desire to have their own tea shop remained.
“Our parents then decided to set up business elsewhere and went to a city they liked. This had to be a student town, and one they thought had the right target group,” says Anna Gschwendner, daughter of the founders and current manager of the tea shop. The decision back then was made in favour of Bonn, but the head office is now in Meckenheim.
In 1994, the “Knusperhäuschen” became her parent company
On their first visit to Bonn, the parents stopped at the “Knusperhäuschen”, the oldest house in Bonn's city centre, which in 1994 was to become the company headquarters. Even then, the parents were sure that this special and historic half-timbered house on the street Dreieck was the right place for the shop.
After the beginnings in 1978 in the Kaiserpassage, this dream finally came true and the Knusperhäuschen, including the tea room on the upper floor, was put into business. “Our mother was the decisive driving force of the basic idea of selling loose tea in Germany,” says Anna Gschwendner. “After all, drinking tea usually has something to do with a moment of peace and quiet, so she had the idea of creating an oasis of calm here in this beautiful house.”
“Tee Gschwendner” is often perceived as a chain
Until her mother's untimely death in 2001, Anna Gschwendner ran the parent company and tea room herself. Only a few people know that “Tee Gschwendner” is often perceived as a chain and that there is actually a family business behind it. Two branches in Mainz and Trier were opened by uncles, and today three cousins still have their own shop.
The currently 145 branches worldwide are run on a franchise system in which the individual franchise partners take part in the various decisions of the company in the form of numerous advisory boards. For Gschwendner, this is a secret of success: “The partners are involved in decisions about the product range or marketing, so that nothing is simply dictated from above. Everyone who runs an outlet is passionate about tea, and in our eyes this is just as important as the product itself. We only have tea lovers.”
The family succession was determined early on
Since the death of their parents, daughter Anna and son Jonathan have taken over the management of the company. For Jonathan it was clear from a very early age that he would follow in his parents' footsteps. He trained as a tea tester in England. “Our parents taught us that we should do what we want and what makes us happy,” says Anna Gschwendner. While her younger brother single-mindedly pursued his path in the family business, she initially wanted to prove herself in other areas as well and studied German, French and later business administration in Freiburg and Bonn.
The younger generation is positioning itself between tradition and innovation: Varieties such as Earl Grey 69 or Tropical Fire still exist today, which were already available at the opening, but new flavours such as salted butterscotch or vegetable teas are also being tried out. However, it is always “back to the roots” with the discovery and development of new tea regions.
In recent years, projects have been implemented in Nepal together with the German Society for International Cooperation to support local farmers. Due to the close contact to the tea plantations, the company is independent of wholesalers. Franchise partners can also participate in trips to tea regions all over the world – helping with the tea harvest is then a prerequisite. The two managing directors also did this at a young age. A love of tea and everything that goes with it was handed down to them in their cradle: “It is an affair of the heart that you cannot simply switch off,” says Gschwendner.
(Original text; Verena Düren, translation John Chandler)