By:  George Addison

First Published as ” How Sweet It Is ” on CNN iReport

Entrepreneur Credits Grandmother and Divine Inspiration for Success

“What God has intended for you goes far beyond anything you can imagine.”
Oprah Winfrey

Today, it seems almost second nature for many people to give “thanks to God” for their awards and successes in life. But every now and then, you meet a person who exudes true inspiration, commitment and gratitude without the aid of the bright lights or cameras.

That’s exactly what makes Ontra Caples, a Navy veteran, carpet layer and CEO of “Down Home Tea” so interesting and pleasant to speak too. His larger than life persona is engaging and thoughtful; he methodically works and strives to honor his 90-year-old grandmother, Alice Wicks, and her wish to make the world a better place using her secret sweet tea recipe to do it.

As a youth, the seeds of the business known today as Down Home Tea were planted in Caples. He spent many a day drinking his grandmother’s tea and watching her share it with hundreds of people at various community events and the Juke Joint in his grandfather’s basement.

Caples said, “It was always about the tea and my grandmother’s cooking.” She developed the tea recipe at the age of 18, back in 1943. Caples added, “I saw how she

Ontra Caples, CEO - Down Home Tea and his grandmother Alice Wicks.  Photo Courtesy:  Down Home Tea

Ontra Caples, CEO – Down Home Tea and his grandmother Alice Wicks. Photo Courtesy: Down Home Tea

cultivated a following, and how so many people were connected to the love of her tea. One day I asked why she didn’t charge anything. Her reply at the time was simply; that she couldn’t sell what God had given her. But, I always knew that the tea had a place in my life and that one day I would come back to it. The dream of using my grandmother’s recipe was now forever placed in my heart. So, nearly 30 years later, through much perseverance and struggle, I refined the recipe, made several attempts finding a product developer to recreate the taste, spent over two years finalizing it, and the rest as they say is history.”

Caples’ success is even more amazing when you factor in his personal challenges to overcome drug addiction, poverty and other issues; nine years clean and counting, he’s resolute in his focus. “God brought me through some hurtful and trying times in my life. I was led to understand that what I was going through was a learning process, and that afterwards I would be able to handle the challenges of growing a business. The tea actually was my salvation and it served as a means to bring others to God, said Caples.”

Down Home Tea is available in Kroger Company Stores in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Down Home Tea is available in Kroger Company Stores in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. Photo Courtesy: Down Home Tea.

Chea Woolfolk, V.P. Sales and Marketing for Down Home Tea, credits Caples’ success to his humbleness and honesty. An entrepreneur herself she adds, “I truly had no intention of consulting for anyone else’s business. But after meeting with him and hearing about his long-term vision, I felt that God wanted me to assist him in marketing and growing the Down Home Tea brand. My association with him has given me a different perspective and has helped me become patient, which benefits both of us, personally and professionally. It takes a strong person to say what they don’t know and he has that ability to be forthright. Not everyone can do that. I see continuous growth in him as he interacts with people and they gravitate toward him.”

With the help of people like Woolfolk, business partners Marcus Ray, David Davis and others, Caples has managed to keep his company in the public eye and expand his product territory. Currently, he benefits from participation in the Kentucky Proud program, which focuses on buying from local producers in the bluegrass state. As a result of being in the program, Down Home Tea is now available at kiosks in nearly 100 Kroger Company stores in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. He’s also working on including a diet and a lemonade version in the future.

As the brand continues to grow and expand, he’s laying out a vision that people can get behind. He understands the work ahead will continue to be hard. Caples added, “As a carpenter I’ve always worked hard to develop myself in a way that would give me financial freedom to be able to help myself and others. Providing food pantries, establishing youth ministries and programs to bring communities together is what’s in my heart to help people make a better life.”

Caples is grateful for the path his life is on, grateful for his grandmother’s legacy and the second chance and vision God has given him. He now approaches each new day as one more day to do God’s will. Down Home Tea happens to be the vehicle that will get him there. When he tells people about the tea he always adds, “Once you taste it, you won’t waste it.” Caples plans not to waste any opportunities to help others as well.


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