Montana’s pioneering legacy might conjure up images of a coffee pot always brewing to keep up with long days of hard work. Sure, we love our coffee in Big Sky Country, but tea also has a warm spot in our hearts and regional history - and Riza Gilpin and Laurie Rennie are transforming custom-blended teas into a business success story in Big Timber, Montana.
Laurie was born and raised in Drummond, Montana, and arrived in Big Timber almost 15 years ago when her husband accepted a position with Stillwater Mining Company. At about that same time, Riza Gilpin and her husband came to visit Big Timber from their home in Florida - and immediately fell in love with the area. For Riza, Montana’s lure ran deeper than the stunning scenery and an affinity for the cooler climate:
Riza Gilpin and Laurie Rennie
Co-Owners, Tumblewood Teas
“I have always been passionate about the history of this area, and the strength and fortitude of the people who moved out here…especially the women who truly helped build the West.”
Riza and Laurie’s paths crossed when the business networking group Laurie belonged to would meet every week in the coffee shop and boutique Riza owned on Main Street. As their conversations developed into a strong friendship, the two realized they shared a lot of the same interests - including an interest in entrepreneurship.
In 2009, Riza decided it was time for her to transform the knowledge and love of tea she had cultivated over her lifetime along with her love of western history into a business. That year she founded Tumblewood Teas and built a brand around the story of tea’s legacy in the west. As she notes, “the legacy of the west plus the history of tea is really what Tumblewood is all about.” When she began her research, she thought ‘tea stories’ would be few and far between, but quickly discovered “everyone had a great tea story, from sweet memories to stories about the treasured tea sets their families brought out to Montana when they came west generations ago.”
The heartwarming stories shared with Riza strengthened her belief that there was room for a tea business to grow on a larger scale in Big Sky Country, IIn 2011 she began selling her custom blends at the Livingston Farmer’s Market and on a wholesale level to restaurants, resorts and retail shops. Laurie soon came on board to help with the markets, and found that she enjoyed every aspect of the business, from tea tasting (cupping) to the customer interactions. Riza saw the time, energy, and effort Laurie was putting into the business and asked her to be a partner. In 2011, the pair moved Tumblewood Teas into its first commercial space: a small office and warehouse space they rented from another local business. By 2014, Tumblewood had grown to the point where they needed more space, so Laurie and Riza completely transformed the old Ford garage in downtown Big Timber into a working space where they have over 55 teas in stock plus a wide variety of tea accessories in stock at any time. Last November they launched their website, TumblewoodTeas.com, where they offer online retail sales for customers all over the country.
For Riza and Laurie, “Montana Made” isn’t just a marketing promotion - it’s a core value of their business.
For Riza and Laurie, “Montana Made” isn’t just a marketing promotion - it’s a core value of their business. They’ve entered into a co-packing partnership with Harlowton-based Cream of the West (http://www.creamofthewest.com/), and sell as many local products as possible, including local Sweetgrass County honey. As Riza notes, “you can’t grow tea in Montana, but we want to make sure everything else we do supports the local economy. We’re very proud to call this place home, and we want to make sure we’re doing our part to help other Montana businesses.”