Hidden Peak Teahouse owner David Wright may be the king of tea, but he’s the first to admit that when it comes to business and marketing, he’s more of a jester.
“We are way behind financially but way ahead spiritually,” he laughs.
Wright is something of a paradox. An avid fan of the film Superbad and dirty jokes, he doesn’t use cell phones or computers—or really any technology aside from light switches, a fridge and his DVD player. He also says that he’s disconnected from the financial side of running his business, and he still feels like a novice when it comes to taxes and marketing. That probably explains why, for the second time in the last couple of years, the teahouse is struggling to make ends meet. If it doesn’t raise funds or come up with another plan, Wright says, it could close up shop as early as July.
“There is nothing like this place anywhere. We just want to stay here in a simple way because of what we hear back from people,” he says. “We have so many testimonials of clarity and equilibrium that come from people here to unplug. This is a temple, this is not a business. It’s put here so that it can be in the marketplace, but it’s here for a unique reason that’s maybe too cutting-edge and ahead of its time.”
The teahouse’s first online fundraiser was in December 2016, when Wright launched a campaign on the shop’s website with a $50,000 goal. He garnered nearly $10,000, which helped Hidden Peak continue to keep the doors open and alleviate financial difficulties at the time. Wright says the money went quickly, and he decided that he wouldn’t want to run another campaign himself.
“It didn’t feel right before, it wasn’t my way. It felt wrong, contrived, upside down and backwards. I tried it, and it wasn’t something I was going to do now,” he says. “We are tea people, nature people, simple people. We have been doing this for over 20 years, and we still don’t know anything about driving business. We are more concerned with engagement and community.”
After hearing about the dire financial situation at the teahouse, friend and Santa Cruz resident Michael Trainer, who’s set to open a downtown café of his own, started a GoFundMe page to raise money for the teahouse and rally support. Currently, Hidden Peak is operating at a deficit upwards of $36,000—nearly half of which is IRS employee taxes. The teahouse needs an additional $20,000 to cover merchandise and maintenance costs. As of 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 17, the GoFundMe had raised $1,875 of its $56,334 goal.
The new effort is more transparent than Hidden Peak’s last fundraiser, which simply involved a donate button on the teahouse’s website and periodic updates on its blog, where Wright would say how far along the effort was. In hindsight, Wright says the reason for that approach was probably technological incompetence on his part. He says it’s helpful that someone else is behind the new fundraiser.
“This time it’s all Mike and his crew and the community he brought into it,” Wright says. “We petitioned nobody. He said, ‘We will do everything. We can’t have this place disappear.’ It was very touching.”
Although the fundraiser has a long way to go, Wright’s happy to feel the community’s support.
“Mike gets the more quirky Santa Cruz element of what we are, what I am,” Wright says. “We are about people and community. Yes of course, we need money to continue doing what we do, but we don’t do it for money. I’m not here to build an empire.”
Trainer says he was shocked to hear about Hidden Peak’s financial troubles. He wants to prevent the business from going the way of other beloved downtown institutions, like Caffe Pergolesi and the Logos book store, both of which closed in the past two years.
“In my mind, if people knew about their financial situation, it would never close,” Trainer says. “I wanted to take the initiative to help. Other people have been shocked and amazed when they hear about it too. The general feeling about us losing Pergolesi and Logos is an open wound, so the idea of losing something else is really sad.”
Looking ahead, Wright would like to setup a council of supporters who believe in Hidden Peak’s mission. He and his team are thinking about putting out a call for a business partner who would share a similar mindset and values.
Before telling a dumb-blonde joke as we wrap up, Wright, who doesn’t have credit or job history, mentions to me that if the teahouse doesn’t work out, he will likely have to find another job, one that doesn’t require computers, of course. While many entrepreneurs would struggle to imagine life after business, he expresses an openness to transitioning away and opening new doors.
“My life is devoted to humanity. I don’t want anything,” Wright says. “I’m not looking for remodels and bigger sectional couches. I realize now that I’ve put myself in a situation where I need help with business motivation alongside our main community aspect. But the glass isn’t half-empty, there is so much joy, so much abundance.”
For more information on Hidden Peak TeaHouse’s drive, visit gofundme.com/save-the-hidden-peak-tea-house.