For Holly Dennis, her business is a labor of love.
“This has been a dream. I believe in it and I put everything I have into it,” she said. “Sometimes I think I’m a little crazy.”
Holly started Harmony Chai 20 years ago while living Alaska. Now a long-time Orcas resident, she sells her chai to coffee shops and retailers across the Pacific Northwest.
“I liked being creative with food,” she said.
Holly grew up in Winter Park, Colorado and was working as a ski instructor when she moved to Homer, Alaska. She was working at a health food cafe when she decided to strike out on her own. Holly began cooking for festivals and then branched out making her own blend of chai, which is a type of Indian tea.
“The response was huge. We went from two of us in the kitchen to five,” she said.
Holly says the key of her recipe is “blending powerful spices together and having a balance.”
“Hence the name Harmony Chai,” she said. “It’s a harmonious balance between sweet and spicy. It’s less sweet than others on the market and it highlights the medicinal qualities. It has antioxidants and is an immune builder.”
Holly knew about Orcas Island from Alaskan friends who visited and called it a “magical place.” So 16 years ago, when her boyfriend got a job at Doe Bay, she decided to move with him. She began selling chai, falafel sandwiches, veggie egg rolls and salads at the farmers’ market. She can still be seen every year manning the booth. With the popularity of her chai, she branched out to selling it wholesale. She uses recycled bottles, organic sweeteners and spices grown in regions outside of India.
Holly is hands-on in every aspect of her business. When she wanted to learn about the science behind bottling, she visited the Oregon Department of Agriculture lab to understand the process. She is currently developing a new chai concentrate syrup, and as Harmony Chai continues to grow, she hopes to find a partner with a business background.
Nine months ago, Holly moved her production facility to Mt. Vernon. She has four employees and travels off-island twice a week to assist with brewing and delivering to coffee shops and retailers from Bellingham down to Olympia. A local investor just purchased a 380-gallon brew kettle that Holly will be using soon, and she is coordinating with a distributor to move her product to more places in the Pacific Northwest.
In addition to running a full-time business, Holly also owns Harmony Landscaping and is a single mom.
Her son Aidan, who is a senior at Orcas Island High School, used to serve the chai at festivals when he was younger.
“I keep seeing Harmony Chai’s potential and I believe in it,” she said. “I’ve grown the business from the bottom up. I will work other jobs to fund it because I want to bring it to a certain level of success … I’m pretty driven and I set goals for myself.”