BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- In August 2011, Mario Leite suddenly found himself with lots of free time on his hands after losing his job as an investment banker. A self-described ice cream fanatic, he dusted off the small ice cream maker that his wife, Souvannee, had given him years earlier and got down to business experimenting.
His breakthrough came after he started looking for a way to combine his love of ice cream with tea, another longtime food passion. An early attempt at developing an Earl Grey flavor brought rave reviews from family and friends, and inspired Leite to take his experiments to the next level.
“People were really gravitating to the uniqueness of it,” Leite said. “It wasn’t just another variation of chocolate or vanilla -- it was something really different.”
A few companies had put out tea-based ice creams, but Leite wasn’t impressed by the competition. So he and Souvannee decided to enter the business themselves, and founded Tea-rrific! Ice Cream in December 2011.
They spent the next 10 months developing their product, determining the ideal way to brew their tea and perfecting their flavor profiles. After many long nights, working during the off-hours at a Stamford catering kitchen, the ice cream hit store shelves in 2012.
It was an immediate hit, as customers were drawn to Leite’s range of novel flavors, including Chamomile, Masala Chai, and ‘London Mist’, the original Earl Grey Leite had developed in his kitchen.
“The flavor profiles are very interesting,” Leite said. “It’s satisfying and creamy, but it finishes clean, so you don’t have that heaviness. It’s refreshing, which is something you normally can’t say about ice cream.”
The couple eventually built their own commercial kitchen on Bridgeport’s East Side, complete with industrial-size tea brewers to help increase production. Today, their pints can be found in the freezer sections of more than 150 stores throughout the Northeast, and Leite has his sights set on expansion throughout the rest of country.
So, in the end, is Leite happy that he left his banking job four years ago?
“[Starting a small business] is definitely a risk, but we really believe in the product and the company,” he said. “And I really love what I’m doing.”
More information about Tea-rrific! Ice Cream can be found on its website , including where to find it in stores and how to order it online.
Some local stores include Whole Foods in Danbury, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich and Westport, Palmer's in Darien, Nature's Temptations in Ridgefield, Caraluzzi's in Wilton, Walter Stewart's Market and Mrs. Green's Natural Market in New Canaan, The Pantry in Fairfield, Balducci's in Westport, Stop & Shop in Stamford, and Kings in Greenwich.
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