Montauk Thirst Quencher Hits Markets

(07/29/2009) Montauk Beverage Works is a light blend of crisp iced tea that was created by Raymond Smyth from his parents’ house in Massapequa. Mr. Smyth, 27, spent the last year concocting unusual blends of tea leaves, natural sweeteners, and other flavors before he hit upon just the right blend of Nilgiri and Ceylon tea leaves sweetened with agave nectar, which he bottled and is now selling in about 20 stores from Westhampton to Montauk.

It’s obvious the young entrepreneur likes tea: He consumes up to eight cups a day. “It’s my hydration,” he says, adding, though, that he doesn’t like it too sweet. He named his company Montauk Beverage Works after he realized he’d be traveling up and down tMontauk Highway to promote the tea.

He tested several blends with his family as a focus group before he decided on the blend. He said he wanted to come up with a less sugary tasting tea, which sets it apart from other teas on the market.

Mr. Smyth is a one-man band, visiting delis across the North and South Forks trying to persuade store owners to sell the drink. “I do the deliveries and the marketing; I wear a bunch of different hats,” he said.

Now a resident of East Hampton, he tried to keep the drink indigenous and have it produced on Long Island, but couldn’t find the tea leaves locally. He also found it cost prohibitive. The drink is bottled in a factory outside of Pittsburgh and stored in a warehouse in East Hampton.

He studied his demographics and found that children 18 and under preferred sugary drinks, but those over 18 seem to search out drinks that are naturally sweetened, he said. “They’re my current market. People who know tea like my tea. It’s a well-balanced drink.”

Although he has a degree in finance, Mr. Smyth was always attracted to the food service industry. Before he went out on his own, he was the food and beverage supplier for JetBlue Airways at Kennedy Airport.

For the most part, he is finding store owners receptive, especially stores that are innovative, he said. “Some companies have their own formula and it’s a challenge to get them to try it. I drive around and look at a business and figure out how to approach it before I go inside.”

He began distributing the tea in early July and has not yet seen a profit. In fact, he’s not breaking even at this point, he said, but he’s optimistic and hopes to have a second flavor ready by Labor Day. “I’ll have to reach a certain tier before I start to make money,” he said.

Like the stick figure logo of a surfer on the drink label, who takes a swig of tea as a formidable wave approaches, Mr. Smyth recognizes that he has a huge challenge ahead of him. But it’s obvious from visiting his Web site at that he’ll handle it with humor, and a lot of driving.