It's Working Project

Have not really lived until you have failed and come back. That is an indicator of the stuff you are made of - how many times you bounce back from that failure.

Linda Neumann and Michelle Brown opened the first Teaism location more than twenty years ago. Since the early days, the beloved Washington, DC restaurant/teahouse has expanded to three locations, a small retail shop, a thriving wholesale operation and into the next generation. In 2015, Michelle’s daughter Lela Singh joined the business. Not only did she bring her own, unique brand of joy to Teaism. Raised in the world of hospitality, she has come of age in restaurants. This started with her early memories of her parent’s famed New Heights. Lela’s world view adds energy and understanding of the real-time needs of employees and the broken state of the industry. This combined with the passion and experience of Michelle and Linda has turned out to be a winning combination. 

Teaism has made a commitment to continued and open minded growth and with that comes shifts and changes. Linda, Michelle and Lela, who have been a part of the Washington, DC hospitality world for decades, have welcomed RE:HER to town with hopes of raising standards and reigniting the industry for the next generation. I had the great luck of sitting with the mother daughter duo. 


Tell me a bit about working together, does this enhance your relationship?

We have so much fun working together, we’ve won the mother/daughter lottery! Better still, We have learned so very much about and from each other.


What has been the biggest learning?

Sharing a business is a lot more fun than sharing pedicures, shopping, cleaning closets and holidays – our relationship has much more depth. We think about what else we will do. We love that part of it all!


What is the one thing that is easier about working with your parent/child than expected? What is more difficult? 


We do not  really have answers for this one. Still,  what makes things easier is already being on the same page about a lot of things, and being able to communicate quickly why we might think differently so that we can get on the same page.


The hospitality space has changed a great deal since you launched your first restaurant . What strikes you as generationally different? Stand out Industry changes? 


Andrew Zimmern talks about this a lot – Wages and consumers’ willingness to pay for what food actually costs is not in line with operational realities. So, something has to give. And we are collectively responsible to make good choices about the food supply in America.


What do you crave when not “on the clock?”


Michelle: Sushi and sake

Lela: Frankly my food cravings are the same on or off the clock! I love having really nice pastries, like a good croissant. Always.


Lela, you grew up in the world of restaurants/hospitality. So many remarkable learnings throughout your 34  years. What is the biggest take-away and how do you (or intend to) pay it forward?


I started managing Teasim for Linda and my Mom when I was 19. My biggest takeaway is that this is incredibly hard work, it’s physically impossible to make everyone happy, and that anything that can go wrong will go wrong at some point. So building proactive systems is something I try to think and talk about a lot. I mean that in the sense of organizing the physical space and workflow but also ways we can hopefully support our team proactively as well. I don’t have solid answers, though.


Lela, you’ve  shared how very busy you have been with the restaurants, wholesale and other Teaism responsibilities. What is your escape? How do you recharge?


I don’t do this very well. I would say that I try to make sure my apartment is my oasis, it is clean, cozy, and has everything I could want in order to relax. Scheduling vacation time is hard, so I’ve gotten a lot more aggressive about building rest, movement, and self-care into my workweek.  


Of course, not everyday is laughter and light – how are those moments?


Have not really lived until you have failed and come back. That is an indicator of the stuff you are made of – How many times you bounce back from that failure. You have to be the real deal to thrive through it. 


How has the shifting state of the hospitality industry impacted your decision to work as a team?


Life is so much more complicated now – Lela’s understanding and her experiences are so critical to the organizational view of what comes next. 


What is necessary for the next chapter?


Flexibility has always been a big part of our relationship so it was and will continue to be important. Life is so much more complicated now – Lela’s understanding of how the next generation works – her experiences are so critical to the organizational view of what comes next.