2014 Leadership award winner for Business Leadership

Ron Rubin

The Republic of Tea
Business Leadership

Invoking a mantra of “Sip by Sip Rather than Gulp by Gulp,” Ron Rubin has embraced health and well-being in all aspects of his work, from the ethical sourcing of restorative teas to engaging his staff to embrace a healthful and mindful lifestyle.


When Rubin bought The Republic of Tea in 1994, two years after its founding, he saw an opportunity in a growing movement. Health-conscious consumers were paying more attention to what they ate and drank, premium beverages like Perrier and Evian were entering the market, and Whole Foods was blazing a trail to a new lifestyle millions would come to embrace. Twenty years later, The Republic of Tea is a top purveyor of more than 300 premium teas and tea products available at some 20,000 gourmet retailers and restaurants in the United States.

At the outset, tea was still a fledgling category. “Everybody was drinking coffee and speeding things up, trying to get a buzz versus slowing their lives down,” says Rubin. He took to heart the founders’ “Sip by Sip Rather than Gulp by Gulp” slogan, which embodied the focus on health and wellness that tea is synonymous with today.

Rubin was inspired not only to preach the mantra to consumers, but also practice it within the company. Every aspect of the business incorporates the mindfulness its products aim to evoke, from ethical sourcing and eco-friendly packaging to a program dedicated to employee health and wellness. “From day one, tea took us into the direction of a Healthy Minister Program,” Rubin says of the program that not only encourages but helps employees—playfully called Ministers as part of the company’s self-identity as “an independent republic,” Rubin explains—to live a healthful lifestyle.


The Healthy Minister Program has evolved to give employees copious benefits that helped The Republic of Tea earn a place on Outside Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” list in 2013. Among the perks the team enjoys are free athletic shoes every year, a fulltime staff nutritionist, on-site weekly yoga classes and daily walking breaks. Benefits such as paid volunteer days, childcare credits and a scholarship program embrace mental and financial wellness too.

“I’ve seen ministers who were smokers and now they’re nonsmokers,” Rubin says of the impact. “I’ve seen people make lifestyle changes and then pass that on to their spouses and their family. It’s been exciting.”

Even more influential on the company may be the annual tea trips. Every year, employees travel to the sites where The Republic of Tea sources its ingredients—China, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Taiwan among them. The idea came to Rubin early on as he traveled frequently to meet with suppliers around the world. He realized the experience would be both enchanting and educational. “When you go to the origin … it’s going to give you a lot of confidence promoting the tea and the tea revolution,” Rubin explains. Employees meet the growers, help pick the leaves in the fields and learn firsthand about the local cultures. “It’s life-changing,” he asserts.


Despite its many successes and continued growth, The Republic of Tea remains a family-run business with an emphasis on the specialty food industry, and Rubin plans to keep it that way. The company employs about 105 people, Rubin says. His son Todd signed on in 2007, and is moving into a leadership role, “to take it to the next generation.”

As for moving into mass retail, Rubin isn’t particularly interested. “We’ve been a specialty tea company and remain specialty. There comes a point where a brand has to decide whether they want to cross the line and go from specialty to mass,” he explains. “And that’s not for us.”

Learn more about the Leadership Awards and the other winners, honorable mentions and nominees at specialtyfood.com/leadershipawards.