No one made iced tea like Robin Squibb’s grandmother did.
She can remember as a child summering in Rhode Island, sitting on the expansive porch of her grandmother’s seaside home in Saunderstown, sipping the delicious lemon/mint iced tea, whose recipe had been in the family for generations. “There was always a pitcher of iced tea in the ice box,” Squibb recalled.
Born in 1890, her grandmother was Sarah Harris Squibb, known as “Sally,” a remarkable woman whose ancestors reportedly came to Rhode Island with Roger Williams and who, among other accomplishments, loved to sail Narragansett Bay and even engaged in sailboat races – a rarity for women in the 1910s and 1920s. Everyone in Saunderstown – family, friends and neighbors – raved about granny’s iced tea.
Now, at least in New England, she will be best known for handing down her tasty ice-tea recipe to her granddaughter.
In less than two years, Robin Squibb, 65, a Providence resident, has made a successful business out of producing and marketing Granny Squibb’s Iced Teas.
Owner of Granny Squibb Co. LLC, Squibb said the beverage was expected to be available in 250 stores throughout New England by the end of April. That is an impressive leap from the 175 regional retail outlets that Squibb said carried her iced tea at the end of 2010.
The first bottles of Granny Squibb’s Iced Teas only went on the market in May 2009.
Squibb could offer no single reason to account for her success, no secret ingredient, no special business practice, no quirky marketing angle sure to draw attention. In fact, the appeal of her product no doubt stems from its basic simplicity and what Squibb likes to call its “authenticity.”
The tea is made of natural ingredients, with actual fruit juices instead of flavoring. “It costs more, of course, to use fruit juice rather than flavors, but we’re sticking with juice,” Squibb said. She shuns false advertising about, for instance, antioxidants that other beverage brands so readily boast.
And the product comes with a genuine family story connected to the sea, accounting for the maritime touches Squibb uses in her marketing.
Squibb comes to the world of entrepreneurship from a place others might envy: based in New York City for 30 years, she worked in the film industry as a freelance script supervisor on such films as “Spider-Man 3,” “Evening,” “Hitch” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” to cite just a few. It was “grueling” work, she said, and after the Sept. tragedies, “I started thinking about what I really want to do in life. I wanted to live in Rhode Island and I wanted to do something else.”
She moved to Providence in 2003, uncertain of her next career move. She remembered how everyone loved her grandmother’s ice tea and she had several people tell her that someone should market it, so she started exploring that idea in earnest.
At first, she couldn’t find a food scientist to prepare an iced-tea formula she found satisfactory for mass production. She eventually prepared the recipe herself. She has since retained a nutrition specialist to oversee content.
What would Sally Squibb think of the product? “We’ve all agreed, my cousins and I, that granny would be horrified to see her picture on the bottles. She was way too modest for that,” Squibb said. •