Sitting around has never been an option for entrepreneur and community leader Tiecha Merritt.
She’s been an active go-getter since a babe in the arms of her mom, Lillith Meyers. Ready to run away before the crawl-then-walk phases.
And so she is doing that exact thing, right now: putting her all into her thriving juice bar business as CEO of The Bush Doctor, now celebrating 11 years as a Bed-Stuy Tompkins Avenue landmark. (First, at 370 Tompkins Avenue, entrance Putnam, 2008 – 2015, and currently anchored a few blocks down on Tompkins at 307 for the past four years.)
Her “can-do/will-do” attitude is what she brings to The Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association which she’s helmed as President for several years. And it has resulted in TAMA becoming one of the fastest growing business groups in Brooklyn.
Nine years ago, a few hundred people showed up for TAMA’s first summer fest Weekend Walk in partnership with the Bridge Street Development Corporation (BSDC) on Tompkins between Halsey and Gates. Impressive. But last summer, with Tiecha steering, the number of celebrants jumped to nearly 3,000 celebrants. This year, the dates are July 20 and August 17.
So what propels her? “ I love my Brooklyn community. The people, the area. Where else in New York or anywhere, can you find a place like Bed-Stuy with its history and its people?” If that comment sounds like something out of the BSDC mission statement, it is. And it is intended. But Tiecha moves the message to the personal: “Where else can I give back like this? Plus it’s not hard work. It’s a labor of love; I can build the community while growing my business.”
Twenty years ago, while working as a professional in the day care system and fresh out of college, Tiecha decided to activate her dreams of owning a business. She found an empty storefront space on Marcus Garvey near DeKalb. It was during a time in Bed-Stuy history when it appeared the only entities recognizing the area as a business destination back then were Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation (NEBHDC); BDSC and Community Board 3.
Northeast owned the property, and with no one tearing down walls or the space, took a chance on her, giving her a low rent.
“I held on to it for two years,” she said noting that she also opened up a boutique specializing in clothing and accessories from African countries.
She held on to her day job.
In December of 2001, she hosted a Kwanza celebration at the empty but renovated storefront; her mother walked into the space, and declared ‘This space says, ‘Jazz’!”
Ms. Meyers and her daughter opened The Jazz Spot that next year. With no liquor license, Tiecha developed a skill for mixing alcohol-free beverages to appeal to the jazz crowds that came in, some during the late hours.
But mixology became a passion, and her customers expanded. In 2015, She went from smooth jazz to smoothies when she learned of a spot with a nice kitchen area for rent on Putnam with a Tompkins Avenue address.
She left that spot for a larger space owned by BDSC further south on Tompkins at 307 near Gates. When she moved, she took her Bush Doctor signage, and her secret ginger-based recipe for what has been called as The Bush Doctor’s fantastic three: ginger beer, salmon burger and veggie burger.
She may be the only smoothie bar owner this side of Fulton who that makes ginger coffee. She also makes ginger cocoa and the obligatory ginger beer. But her Witches’ Brew Tea is sworn by as THE medicine for colds.
Location is everything, they say And Tiecha has added the location to her list of what she loves about Bed-Stuy. The space, rented from the Bridge Street Development Corporations, puts her closer to her customers, she says. “And my customers closer to me.”
Tiecha gives thanks to many individuals who have helped her go the distance in pursuit of her dreams but the list is too long for this column. At the top, however, are NEBHDC CEO Jeffrey E. Dunston; BSDC President and CEO Emilio Dorcely and Michael Brooks, TAMA’s Vice President and an owner of Bed- Vyne cocktail lounge.
Tiecha counts Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright, a former business owner (Common Grounds), and Oma Holloway, currently, BSDC’s director of community engagement as “huge” role models and counselors over the years. She credits her mother as her foundation. “She’s my rock. She has kept me motivated all of the years of my journey. She’s my inspiration and my biggest fan base.”
So what about the Bush Doctor who guards her juice bar. Is it modeled after anyone? Tiecha informed us that she hired the artist TRUE to give life to her design idea. And that design was inspired by the root doctors indigenous to African culture. “When people get ill in certain cultures they go to healers who know the healthy ways to cure ills. The green is representative of herbs and roots, and they are tied to the food and juices unique to my juice bar. I wanted him dressed in doctor’s clothing,” she said.
For Tiecha, it’s not been a mighty long walk; she’s speeding past bumps in the road on her way to the stars. You can’t miss the Bush Doctor’s skateboard. Tiecha keeps up. (Bernice Elizabeth Green)