ROOTED: Love Shine Tea: Steeped in Radical Compassion

Owner & Founder of Love Shine Tea, Michelle Rivera

Love Shine Tea:

Steeped in Radical Compassion 

Located on Schoharie village’s bustling historic main street, Love Shine Tea emerges as more than just a tea shop—but a sanctuary of compassion, community, and empowerment. In a recent interview, SEEC had the privilege of delving into the passion driven journey of founder and owner of Love Shine Tea, Michelle Rivera; a dynamic and determined driving force of community. As a local entrepreneur, mother of four, and community curator, Michelle Rivera has become rooted in the heart of Schoharie Valley through her creation of Love Shine Tea: a tea, plant-based and allergen-friendly bakery, eatery, and cafe.

Rewind almost 20 years ago, Michelle was relocating from Connecticut to Schenectady, New York to pursue and obtain a paralegal degree from Schenectady County Community College (SCCC). As a young adult, she believed she could change the world by working in the field of law. Working as a paralegal in the field for years, and with her sights set on law school—graduating with a college degree meant something more to her. She recounted, “I was the first person on my mother’s side of the family to ever attend college, and when I was unhoused as a teenager, I dropped out of high school in my senior year so I could work full time. I got my GED a month after dropping out of school.” A true testament to her dedication to learning and education, despite facing adversity and having to overcome hard-ship.

In about a decade’s time, however, Michelle realized working in law wasn’t fulfilling her desire to help her community. “I realized that it just didn’t resonate with my soul and I needed to focus on food as a way to help my community—it [food] felt more authentic and organic than anything else and still does.” She discussed how “bread-breaking” and sharing meals with others has always been a powerful tool used to inhibit community that transcends cultural differences, social economic status, and other barriers.

That’s when she decided to shift her focus entirely to food and herbalism, and it became clear to her that this was where she could truly make an impact and connect with the community in a way that felt truly fulfilling. “Food has always been there and I was always utilizing those skills, even when I was doing paralegal work. Food has always been a part of me. I was born to do it, I just had this idea ingrained in me that you can only change the world by being a doctor, lawyer, or politician.”

Roughly two years after obtaining her paralegal degree from SCCC, she decided to re-attend school but this time, pursuing a degree in nutrition. Michelle’s love for creating tasty nutrient-rich food had been sparked long before then, stemming all the way back to her childhood. During our conversation she recalled scaling through pages of cookbooks when she was just 12 years old—reading anything she could to increase not only her knowledge-of, but also her access-to healthy food more consistently; highlighting the comfort it brought her. She expressed that while growing up, her access to nutritious and healthy food was inconsistent and not always easy—which prompted and inspired her to take matters into her own hands when starting her career(s), and going further in the fruition of Love Shine Tea.

“Having this place, this business, is a really big deal to me.” Michelle explained that because of inconsistent housing and financial struggles, “I don’t know if I ever could’ve imagined this for myself.”

While speaking with Michelle, it was clear to us that she values and intentionally incorporates love, acceptance, and compassion into her business. Her goal at Love Shine Tea was to create a safe space for all, and she means everyone. She has intentionally sown seeds throughout her business in reflection of this including a discreet “take what you need, no questions” personal care drawer in her restroom, a kids section full of toys and entertainment, a “Community board” where locals and customers can post their business cards, or any other flyers for communal events and news, and a “Giving Tree”.

Her eyes lit up explaining to us that the “Giving Tree” is something she created at the front of her store so that customers can either donate something, or take something that’s been donated as needed. Give, for example, a bagel to the tree on a good day, and take a bagel or tea from the tree when things aren’t so good. The “Giving Tree” is just another creative path she has paved and implemented within the community to interact, uplift, and support one another.

Michelle’s passion propelled her forward. Using the skills and knowledge she gained from the classes she took for nutrition, she spent time as a personal chef and boutique caterer in Schenectady for private clients. Having a compassionate perspective of following a vegan diet herself, she specialized in catering to a clientele with various dietary needs/restrictions. Determined to prove that healthy and nourishing food doesn’t have to come at the cost of flavor or high dollar, around the same time, she was simultaneously busy creating an organization called “Fork It Over” where she ran and sold pop-up meals to donate any profits to various charities and nonprofits in-need. Michelle continues to use her culinary talents as a tool to pour back into her community.

Lured by the Schoharie County hiking trails, seasonal farmer’s markets and learning about the natural resources the area offers from a foraging perspective, Michelle, her husband, and their four kids were grateful to find a property that was not only spacious enough on the inside, but also came with ample land acreage. Soon after, Michelle did what was unimaginable in her youth, she opened a food & beverage-centered boutique dedicated to uplift others. Michelle also has enjoyed participating in a couple local culinary competitions, where she achieved high praises from a judging panel for her knowledge and skill.

In May of 2023, Michelle stumbled upon the ideal store-front location right in the core of Schoharie’s main village, brimming with potential. With the help of her husband—who happens to own his own contracting/construction business in the capital region as well—she was able to remodel the space into what stands today as Love Shine Tea, in roughly five persistent months of hard work.

Love Shine Tea currently offers a multitude of exotic tea blends, unique retail items, plant-based allergen-friendly baked sweets and lunch items—noting their renowned Flatbread Fridays. Perhaps most importantly, however, she explains that Love Shine Tea is a space for community cohesion, collaboration, and belonging where guests are encouraged to create conversation and meaningful connections with one another.

Visitors are encouraged to stop in to relax and hang out, get some work done, or make it a to-go stop for their daily refreshment or a quick break. Michelle personally recommended the “Sassy Chai” a tea blend she personally crafted to have a healthy kick of spice. Customers with dietary restrictions due to either preference or allergy will have a wonderful time exploring all the options she has to offer—while those without should not be deterred because flavor is never sacrificed throughout her processes.

Michelle choses to focus on tea and food for Love Shine Tea because she sees it as a strategy of bringing people together through conversation and shared experiences. “I love the open dialogue between all different types of people whether they’re local or just traveling through. I want to help bridge that gap between our differences and create that safe space in the middle where we can all come together and see how alike we all really are” she adds. After all, mosaics and machines are made of all different sorts of pieces, but all have to come together in unity for the final piece to really work, SEEC might have to agree.

From inception to funding to full operation, Michelle  has navigated the journey to making Love Shine Tea what it is today, with just one other part-time team-member (as of recently). Operating on a “shoe-string” budget, she explains that the fruits of her labor are commendable and personal. Serving as a true inspiration and sign of hope for others.

Since the start of 2024, less than one year after opening, Love Shine has been awarded two SEEC grants for both digital marketing and curb appeal. With these new assets in her back pocket, she excitedly aims to expand her reach to the online tea community—and has numerous ideas/plans cooking up for the future of Love Shine Tea—hinting at a new product collaboration with Cobleskill’s Mineral Springs Soap.

When asked what she would say to other small business owners, or those thinking of starting one within our tight knit community she replied, “The more the merrier! We’re all in this together and working with one another has been so helpful and enjoyable, the support we are able to give one another—but also back to our community—is so important. In a sense, we all need each other to expand and thrive.” Her recent features in the Cobleskill Times-Journal and Mountain Eagle newspapers reflected her collaborative spirit and willingness to participate and grow with other businesses in the area. In the future, she can see herself hosting more pop-up events and dinners for the community in collaboration with other local businesses owners.

In hindsight of her decision to sow entrepreneurial seeds specifically in Schoharie County and deepen her roots in this region, she added, “I also really feel like this area has such great energy, and is on the cusp of some sort of ‘renaissance’ in its own way. There’s a lot more going on here than what people might expect from a rural place, and a lot of opportunity with and within this community.” She eagerly shared some of her future ideas to deepen and strengthen Love Shine Tea’s roots here by hosting more pop-up events and dinners for the community in collaboration with other local entrepreneurs.

At Love Shine Tea, Michelle Rivera’s unwavering compassion for her community is palpable. This cozy haven serves not just as a tea shop, but as a vibrant community hub where guests come together to forge meaningful connections over hand-crafted culinary delights. Michelle’s dedication to empowering and inspiring others resonates deeply here. As she aptly puts it, “Sometimes life can be overwhelming, but overcoming challenges fuels my passion to uplift others—it’s what drives me every day.”

ROOTED

Interviewed and Authored by SEEC Associates, June 2024

Photos taken by Roslyn Rose Photography

RESOURCE BIN
Human  

  • Michelle Rivera – Founder & Owner of Love Shine Tea

Physical     

Intellectual/Industry    

Financial  

Digital  

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