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A company is making premium handcrafted teas and lemonades in downtown Gary for Chicago restaurants.

Love Tea uses the commercial kitchen at ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen to make as much as 100 gallons a week of sweet tea and lemonade that's distributed to restaurants including Litehouse Whole Food Grill of Hyde Park, Friistyle Chicago in Bronzeville, the Overflow Coffee Bar in the South Loop, and Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods in Wicker Park, where it's mixed into cocktails like mojitos. The company's 16-ounce bottles of tea, which can be consumed cold or hot, are being sold at Tequila and Taco in Gary's Miller neighborhood and should soon be available at more Northwest Indiana locations.

Husband and wife duo James Shelby and Chastity Shelby started the business in Hyde Park in 2015 and hope to take it national.

"My wife made a batch of tea for me when I wasn't feeling too well," James said. "She threw some things in the pot and it was perfect. I have an entrepreneurial mind and thought we should try to put this into production."

Their first restaurant client was the Litehouse restaurant in Hyde Park, where the supply sold out on the first day. Now they're distributing to 10 different restaurants across Chicagoland.

"We started looking for a commercial kitchen to manufacture out of and found the Arthouse," he said. "The website was excellent and it was great from the jump. They were very helpful. We had never been to Gary and didn't know how close or how far it was. It was perfect and had everything we needed."

Now the Shelbys are looking to move to Indiana to be closer to their business' base of operations. All the production, bottling and labeling takes place at the ArtHouse, which Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates established with Bloomberg Philanthropies funding in late 2016.

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They made several different beverages, including a sweet tea, a peach tea, a honey lemonade, a strawberry lemonade, a mint lemonade, and a seasonal watermelon mint lemonade.

"We're both from the south so we like sweet tea," James said. "It has great flavor. It has cinnamon, honey, and agave, since she put those into the initial batch. It's a very different taste."

They were engaged to be married when they started the company and named it after their love for each other.

"My wife and I do everything together. The teas are made with love," he said. "It was the perfect fit. We spoke with our lawyers and found it wasn't taken already."

Currently handling the rush of holiday orders, they hope to hire employees, ramp up production, expand distribution regionally and eventually go national. They can envision their tea being sold at supermarkets and convenience stores as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.

"We really love our business," he said. "We don't cut any corner. We make sure every sip is the same.

For more information, visit thatlovetea.com or search for loveteachicago on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.