Do you remember the old expression, never mix business with pleasure? Well, this couple proves that the notion is simply not true. Jermail and Brandi Shelton of Just Add Honey Tea Company are in it to win it! From parenting to marriage and entrepreneurship, their love and loyalty is a commitment to their determination in crafting their own fairy tale.
A marriage deeply rooted in sustaining a solid support system of each other is one of the keys to success for this husband and wife duo. Their partnership is unique in that the layers of their everyday lives are heavily intertwined daily. With 13 years of marriage under their belt, three children, and a thriving business with two locations and a third opening soon, they’re continually discovering creative ways to evolve independently and jointly.
Whether it’s scaling a business, bridging community connections, or pushing the needle forward for the next generation of young boys and girls, the embodiment of love is at the core of this twosome’s story. A simple cup of tea can heighten a person’s day. It sets a vibe. And Brandi’s love of tea is a reflection of just that. Filled with wisdom, warm emotions, and treasured times remembered with her grandmother as a child created the beginning of the Atlanta based family business. Infusing that same love and energy, she experienced and continues to share with her husband is reflected in each of their signature tea blends.
The Sheltons sat down with BlackLove.com to discuss the dynamics of making it uniquely work for them in both business and marriage, valuable love lessons, and how they’re teaching vulnerability and emotional depth with raising their two sons.
We are all ever-evolving, so the person you marry is not the same individual a year later.
BlackLove.com: What was your fondest childhood memory about love? How has it translated into your life as an adult?
Jermail Shelton: My fondest childhood memory of love that instantly comes to mind is my Aunt Gwen and Uncle Junior. They’ve been married for more than 40 years. I grew up in Massachusetts, but they lived in Chicago, and every summer, I would spend it with them at their house. When I’m around them, it always seems they just got married even though they’ve been together for so many years. They also have funny nicknames for each other. I’m mindful of their approach in their relationship, and for me, I’m building on that same concept.
However, if I’m transparent, it is odd because, with Brandi and I, we have a unique relationship. The fact we are married, and we have a business together sometimes the business aspect overpowers our marriage. Since our lives are intertwined deeper than the average couple, I have to remind myself to be a husband and love on her [Brandi] a bit more because we are running so hard with Just Add Honey Tea Company. This is something I learned from my aunt and uncle in their interactions and the way they love each other out loud.
Brandi Shelton: I knew love from my mom. She and I had this thing, and now I make my husband do it as well. My mother and I would sit on the side of her bed. During this time, I told her everything that was going on with me. She rubbed my back, but I once spoke up and said that’s not what I wanted from her. Her response was, “Okay, well, then tell me how to love you right now?”
I explained to her it was something I saw in a movie. I wanted her to listen to what I was saying and hug me. Then pull me back by my shoulders and say, “Chin up kid,” followed by an innocent little punch on my chin. She responded, “That’s what you want!” I told her, “I think so. Let’s try it out!” Moving forward, no matter what happened or what I confided in her, she would always say, “Are we doing it?” My reply was, “We’re doing it!”
It was something that made me feel better, and at this point, she was like a therapist. That was her showing me love by meeting me where I wanted. My mom is deceased, but she was perfect. Now I tell my husband, “Alright, we’re doing it!” And he’s like, “Alright, let’s do it!” He does the same thing for me to show up and love me when I need someone to listen. In both cases, in my eyes, that’s love.
BL.com: How is your company a reflection of showing up for your community?
BS: Having a company that’s unconventional like tea or loose leaf tea is one way for little brown girls to dream and think outside of what society tells them, what they are supposed to be. To me, that community part is showing that you can be whatever you want to be, especially starting as a tea company 13 years ago in non-brown spaces. Our stores are spaces you didn’t know you needed but are happy they exist. They’re warm and welcoming. We remember your name and remember what you want. It’s almost like the show Cheers in a cup of tea, with every single interaction.
We greet you like we’ve known you all of our lives and add a little extra love to every cup that we make. Recently a lady came into the store every day because her sister was in a coma. She just wanted a listening ear. For that week, we were her community because she lived out-of-state. Before she traveled back, she hugged everyone and was so excited and happy to have a home away from home. Even if it was in a tea shop for a few days, we were her community. Our presence meant something to her, and her presence meant something to us through mutual support of one another.
It’s rich, deep, dark, and delicious just like him, and that’s why I would describe my husband as my little Black Coconut.
BL.com: As a father, how are you teaching vulnerability and emotional depth with raising two young Black boys?
JS:I’m a founder of a group called Undugu. It’s Swahili for brotherhood. We’ve created a safe space for Black men to speak about vulnerabilities and issues we’re going through. Our ultimate goal is that our Black boys won’t have to wait until their 30s and 40s to express themselves in a vulnerable capacity. Black men have been told for generations that we’re considered less than a man by opening up and being transparent. Words such as vulnerability, depression, sadness, etc. have been frowned upon in our society, and we’re working toward dispelling the myth of what it is to be a Black man living in the United States.
For me, I allow my kids to be authentic. They know we love them by showing them and expressing the word “love” a lot in our household. We also let them know they can come to us with anything, both good and bad, and we will treat them the same. My 10-year-old has started to develop more in-depth conversations about race relations because of their attendance at a school that is very cultured. With him in particular, having more open communication as he continues to hear stories on the news and learning about what’s taking place in the world sparks topics of discussion.
He has a very inquisitive mind. Moments when we’re just driving in the car and listening to a news story, he knows that he has the freedom to ask questions. We try to answer as honestly as possible based on where he’s at in life. Also, we let our kids know that some things we’re sharing with them right now they may not necessarily understand. But the goal is if anything were to happen to us [my wife and I] suddenly and you’re living this life, as time progresses you’ll remember “Awww man, daddy told me this a few years ago. Now it makes sense.”
BL.com: If any of your children were to get married and asked your opinion on the most important lesson you’ve learned about a successful marriage, what would you say?
BS:I would say honest communication. What I love about my marriage is that we’ve known each other our entire adult lives, and we’ve always communicated and been very honest with one another. We’re growing differently, both individually and collectively, but we’ve never stopped talking. The same applies to our children; we find time for each other, and we can just sit and talk because we communicate so well.
JS:I would also say communication because it’s critical. As well as understanding, we are all ever-evolving, so the person you marry is not the same individual a year later. Be gracious in allowing that person to grow and the opportunity to mess up in terms of failing forward. Further adding to that, I would say there is no such thing as a 50/50 balance all of the time. Brandi and I said a few years ago that our relationship is like a seesaw. If you take a look at a seesaw at 100 percent, sometimes, Brandi might be at 80 and me at 20 or vice versa.
There’s always varying moments because the even balance of a 50/50 split isn’t realistic. But I think if you have a partner and you know that partner essentially has your back, you understand sometimes they will have a larger or lesser workload than you. As you continue to move forward in a marriage, the number sways up and down. It’s important to be mindful of that and keep the relationship alive in your own personal ways.
We are married, and we have a business together, and sometimes, the business aspect overpowers our marriage.
BL.com: Describing your relationship as one of your favorite teas, how would you define it?
JS:Brandi is like a “Mango Rose.” Because it’s green tea, it’s healthy, so she’s healthy for me. It has a lot of different flavors, including roses, which means she’s sweet too.
BS: My marriage is similar to a cup of tea because it takes a little minute to brew, and it depends on how we’re feeling. That’s what I love about tea! Although I drink coffee, I call it a one-hit-wonder because you know exactly what you’re going to get. Even though you can sweeten it up if you want, to almost make coffee more like a dessert, you still know the exact taste of it. For the most part, coffee is a singular feeling versus tea, which has so many complexes and nuances.
My husband and I have known each other since we were 21-years-old. We were best friends and remained this way for a very long time because we didn’t get married until we were 31-years-old. We have a brew called “Black Coconut,” and that’s what I consider my husband to be: my “Black Coconut.” It’s a black tea, and black tea has caffeine in it, so it definitely gets you going. The coconut is sweet and a little nutty, and it also has apple pieces in it, so it rounds it out nicely. It’s rich, deep, dark, and delicious just like him, and that’s why I would describe him as my little “Black Coconut.”