CHATHAM — Local entrepreneur Jordan Buckner is doing more than selling his health snack: He’s also making a difference in the community.
The 27-year-old wants to offer jobs to teens and young adults in Englewood. He lives in Chatham, but most of his Chicago family is still in Englewood, which is where his mother is originally from.
Buckner has already hired 16-year-old Travis England to help with both the sales and production side of his company, Tea Squares, which is a tea-infused energy snack. It contains caffeine from organic tea that doesn’t use artificial ingredients or preservatives.
The bite-size snacks are light and offer a small crunch because they are made with puffed millet, almonds and organic pumpkin seeds. They come in three flavors: Madagascan Vanilla Tea, Acai Blueberry Tea and citrus Green Tea Matcha.
Jordan Buckner, left, is the founder of Tea Squares. He hired Travis England to assist him. [Provided by Jordan Buckner]
Travis started working with Buckner over the summer, helping with events and sample tables.
“It has been an amazing experience,” Travis said.
Before taking the job, he said he used to be more reserved and not as talkative around strangers, but that has changed.
“After going to events and interacting with people to get the product, I’ve gained more social skills,” he said.
This opportunity will prepare him for the future he said. Travis wants to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology and work in the information technology field after college.
“With doing that I have to have communication skills because I will have to talk to people to project my ideas,” he said.
He's also learned the importance of being punctual and organized, he said.
“He used to be nervous, but now I can leave him alone at the table and he’s selling Tea Squares almost as well as I am,” Buckner said.
Because Buckner believes the streets are dangerous he wants to offer more jobs to teens in the near future. He manufactures his product in Englewood out of the commercial kitchen his family owns for its catering company, San Justin’s Kitchen.
After some experimenting in that kitchen he founded Tea Squares in January. He attended an event that allowed him to meet Whole Foods buyers and, after pitching to them, he got his product in the store six weeks later. It's now sold in Whole Foods stores in Evanston, Hyde Park, the West Loop, South Loop, Sauganash and, most recently, Englewood.
Growing up, he spent time in the kitchen and the neighborhood every week. He attended Whitney Young High School and graduated from both the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois, where he obtained his master's degree in business administration.
He said he was used to being in the kitchen with his mother because when he was younger she would practice what she learned in culinary school with him. Eating healthy has always been reinforced in his family and he wants to give people on the South Side a healthy alternative to junk food.
In January he said he decided to create his own healthy snack. To test it out on customers, he added it to his family’s catering menu and it was a success Buckner said.
One of his missions is to create healthy food, but the other is to have an economic impact on Englewood.
“I want to bring jobs, knowledge and certain skills back to Englewood,” he said. “I could have set the business anywhere across the city, but it was important for me to invest in our community right here.”
The ultimate goal is to get the product in stores throughout the country within three years and eventually around the world.
Visit his website at www.myteasquares.com.
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