Interviewed by Patrick Bridgeman
For a man who likes a challenge, Marcel Polak certainly found one when he tried to open a non-alcoholic late-night tea house here in Ireland. Determined to be his own boss and to fill a niche he’d found in the market, he persevered, and one-and-a-half years later “The Tea Garden” is a firm favourite among Dublin’s trendy teetotallers.
When I finished school in Slovakia, there weren’t many opportunities to progress in my life. I was young and I wanted some new experiences so I came to Ireland to improve my English. I wanted a challenge and at the time my English was very bad.
My first job was packing shelves in a supermarket, then I got a job as a doorman for a nightclub, but I didn’t want to always be working for someone else. I saw an opportunity here, like when people see “new” ideas that are making money in other countries and then open up something “unusual” in their own country.
In my country there are many tea houses and I thought that that idea was perfect for Ireland because many people were sick of pubs and nightclubs and they were looking for something new; somewhere quiet they could relax and chill out, maybe play some chess or have a great date without drunk people around.
It was very difficult to open this place, but I had help from my brother Marial and my American friend Alan who helped me to communicate with different offices. We asked a bank for a business loan but they said that if we don’t sell alcohol then we can’t do business in Ireland, so they refused it. They didn’t get the idea, but it’s okay; it was just another challenge for us.
We wanted to be the first people to open up this kind of place in Ireland. Even if it didn’t work, nobody could take that away from us.
I was working at my other job in the night so I had my days free to do some painting or construction on this place. We did a lot of the work ourselves to save money. It cost us a lot of energy and time and we left a huge piece of our heart here, but I hope it’s worth it.
Here, there are not many places to go in the night-time if you don’t want to visit a pub or a nightclub. Most of the cafes and parks close at 6pm.
What I’m offering is nice organic tea in a different atmosphere for 1 or 2 hours. I know people like it as I always see the same faces coming back. We have people showing up from all over the world, getting in out of the Irish weather.
In my country it’s the best place for a date. You have your privacy, you can lie down on pillows upstairs, nobody rushes you and there are no messy drunk people around, so you can talk with the woman that you love. In my opinion, it’s the best thing.
It’s also a great alternative for young people. I see the Irish Government fighting to reduce the problems of alcohol in Ireland. In my opinion, they should help to open up places like mine. This is a place where young people can come to hang out, play some games, read a book or use the free Wi-Fi.
On our menu, we have teas from Japan, China, India and South America. If you close your eyes and drink the tea, for a few moments you can be somewhere else. It’s a nice relaxing way to clean up your body from toxins and even from bad habits and thoughts. Feeling good is the best thing you can do for your body.
I had no idea about tea before this. I never went to the tea houses because of the tea. I just liked the unique atmosphere.
When I became interested in the business, I started to find out all about the science and history of teas. In my opinion, we can learn a lot from Asia and the Orient. Drinking tea there is a ritual. The family get together in a quiet place and prepare a nice relaxing tea.
The people in the East may not have a lot of things but they have the most important thing: Dreams.
For more info, visit www.tea-garden.com