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Detroiter turns old family recipe into Ellis Island Tea

Nailah Ellis-Brown has always had entrepreneurial ambitions but never a way to get the there. That is until she launched Ellis Island Tea.

The Detroiter decided to draw upon her heritage to make that happen. She took an old family recipe for herbal tea made with hibiscus passed down from her great grandfather, Cyril Byron. The Jamaican immigrant came to the U.S. through Ellis Island in the early 20th Century and worked as a master chef on the Black Star Line, a shipping line started by Marcus Garvey.

Byron leveraged that experience to start his own catering service in the 1940s in New York, a minority-owned business that fed his family for 20 years. Ellis-Brown says that when Byron died he passed down the herbal tea recipe with the instruction that it is to be sold, not told.

"I always wanted to be an entrepreneur but I never had a product or service to offer,” Ellis-Brown says. "I thought, 'Why don't I put this on the market? This could be my ticket to entrepreneurship.'"

Ellis-Brown started selling the bottles of the herbal tea from her home. Ellis Island Tea can now be found in 15 stores in Michigan, including every Whole Foods in the Great Lakes State. She hopes to have her products in 30 stores by the end of this year, including a few outside of Michigan.

Ellis-Brown also recently moved into 4,000-square-feet of space at the Russell Industrial Center on the Detroit-Hamtramck broder. That is now the center of production for Ellis Island Tea and she hopes it will serve as the launchpad for her business going national.

"I wanted to be in Detroit," Ellis-Brown says. "That is where I was born and raised. It means a lot to me to say brewed in Detroit."

Source: Nailah Ellis-Brown, owner of Ellis Island Tea
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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