There are as many types of friendships as there are flavors on God’s green earth, but few carry the bittersweetness of those formed around the trials of single parenthood. The character that’s forged from such precious mettle can move mountains, and moving mountains is something Kate Dunbar and Zhena Muzyka have become pretty good at.
Dunbar, The Baker from Ventura and Muzyka, The Tea Maker from Ojai, met more than a decade ago when they were both struggling single parents doing whatever was necessary to survive. Today, they are enjoying the fruits of their labor — together and individually.
In her best-selling new book, Life by the Cup: Ingredients for a Purpose-Filled Life of Bottomless Happiness and Limitless Success, Muzyka reveals how she beat the odds and turned a depressing $6 checking account balance into an award-winning multimillion-dollar brand with a sick child in tow. Each chapter of the heartfelt memoir is framed by one of her signature Gypsy Tea brews and includes an exercise for overcoming obstacles to personal and career achievement. At the back of the book there are instructions for throwing a Gypsy Tea Party with recipes for Dunbar’s to-die-for tea-infused treats.
Since its release last month, Life by the Cup has made the Bookish Best Nonfiction Beach Read list and been described by USA Today as one of the “hottest books of the season.” Muzyka has appeared on a variety of television programs including Lou Dobbs and Bloomberg TV while on a nationwide book tour. As if that’s not enough to make a humble gypsy pinch herself, her story has been snatched up by Mark Wahlberg (yes, that Mark Wahlberg) for an HBO series.
Dunbar and Muzyka initially met when the baker was working in a salon and the tea maker was peddling her unique lattes from a humble cart in downtown Ventura, hoping to offset some rather overwhelming medical expenses for her infant boy, Sage. Not quite friends yet, the two were busy carving niches. Dunbar, whose love of food is deeply rooted in her farming lineage ( McGrath and Coultas), entertained her entrepreneurial spirit with various projects while raising a son who had extreme food sensitivities, and Muzyka slowly cultivated her fair-trade, organic company, Zhena’s Gypsy Tea.
Years later, Dunbar was on her way to attend a Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) workshop, preparing to launch a Vodka product. While zooming up the 101 to Santa Barbara, she received the bad news that her alcohol permit had been declined. With her start-up quite suddenly plummeting like a clay pigeon, she decided to keep driving and show up to the workshop anyway. As fate would have it, Muzyka, who by this time had grown her little tea cart into a full-scale operation, was the keynote speaker. When Dunbar recognized The Tea Maker, her first thought was “Oh my God, she made it!” By the end of the workshop, largely due to Muzyka’s direction, Dunbar’s path was clear: baking. “I realized I have a treasure trove of recipes — the truffles I’ve been making for years, the infused brownies — I’m going to open a dessert catering company.” And four months later she did.
Soon the tea maker was mentoring the baker and the fusion resulted in a delicious and fortuitous friendship. Together they traveled to Sri Lanka where Dunbar camped out in kitchens, fully immersing herself in the region’s cuisine while Muzyka visited her tea farmers and chipped away at Life by the Cup.
Writing was not an afterthought, for Muzyka, who attended college for writing. “It’s a creative urge I have every day,” she told VCReporter. “I realized what I’d learned could benefit other people. She wanted her book to be enjoyable and edifying but not laborious. “Read a chapter in the time it takes to sip a cup of tea.” The personal development aspect of Life by the Cup came naturally for Muzyka who is a certified executive coach. “I’ve always worked in transformation,” she says. “I used to read tarot and palms. I’ve always had a spiritual focus in my life.”
Early in their relationship, the women cooked up a sweet idea: a product line of tea-infused cake mixes. Their brand would be The Baker and the Tea Maker. While they ended up putting it on the back burner, when things settle down, they have every intention of bringing it to fruition. For now, though, there’s plenty to keep them busy.
Since moving Zhena’s Gypsy Tea operations to L.A., Muzyka has shifted her attention to her latest enterprise: Zhena.tv, an umbrella portal to her brand, which now includes handcrafted fair-trade goods among other products. “Our mission is to inspire and serve the entrepreneurial spirit and heal the world in our own way.” She is also working on two books — Business by the Cup and The Modern Gypsy’s Guide to Life — as well as planning women’s retreats, all while raising her children in Ojai and making her best effort to be the change. Dunbar’s hands are full with her catering business and her new food blog, katescuriouskitchen.com.
What can aspiring businesswomen learn from The Baker and The Tea Maker? “That they are not alone,” says Dunbar. “There is a sisterhood out there of women who care compassionately to see other women rise higher than them. It doesn’t matter who you know, it’s how kindly did you treat them on your way up.”
For more information about The Baker and The Tea Maker, visit www.zhena.tv and www.katescuriouskitchen.com. Cover image by Marj Domingo.