Brian Blair has been a professional wrestler, a Hillsborough County commissioner and an occasional political lightning rod. Now he'd like you to taste his new iced tea drink: Celebritea.
In his post-political career, Blair is making himself into a business match-maker of sorts, and using his connections to help a local drink company get their products on the shelves of major grocery stores.
That's no small feat as scores of entrepreneurs dream of putting their inventions on store shelves, only to find stiff competition from major food companies who can pay stores to stock their product.
So far, Blair is succeeding. Fresh Market stores around Tampa Bay are now selling several Celebritea flavors like Peach Ginger and Asian Pear as part of their drive to stock locally-sourced foods.
"I'm telling you the Asian Pear is the best tasting tea I've ever had," Blair says, explaining that he's always had an entrepreneurial streak, and noting that he's owned several Gold's Gym locations before getting into politics. "The beverage industry can be very lucrative, from teas to waters of all kinds to new age beverages."
Recently, Blair made his biggest win yet, helping Celebritea sign up the grocery giant of the Southeast: Publix Supermarkets.
Publix officials confirm they plan to start stocking Celebritea sometime in January in several stores, and depending on production schedules, potentially across their fleet of 1,000-plus stores. That could catapult the company from a small project based on Adamo Drive into a significant drink producer with bottles sitting on shelves next to Snapple and Honest Tea.
Blair came to this line of work through personal connections to another entrepreneur, Celebrity Tea LLC President Jeff Stone, who was looking to expand into the beverage market where consumers often pay $3 or $4 per bottle for drinks like Monster, Red Bull, Arizona iced tea and Vitamin Water.
When they first envisioned the brand, Stone said, they considered signing up celebrities to symbolize each flavor, like a Paula Deen sweet tea or a Guy Fieri spicy tea. But that could mean each flavor would live and die with that celebrity's fame. Still, they knew people loved celebrities, so they stuck with the nomenclature and went with a "Celebri tea" logo with a red star between the two words.
They made connections with former Pepsico executives, a flavor formulator in Louisville and a graphic designer in St. Petersburg – all the while focusing on organic ingredients and a low-calorie count. Each 16-ounce bottle now has less than 80 calories. The black tea leaves come from Kenya and the white tea leaves from China, but the product is brewed and packaged at a contract beverage company in Dade City.
Fresh Market sells bottles for $2.49 apiece.
Blair is excited to be in the business game again. He's had a rough few years, having an unsuccessful campaign to join the state Legislature in Tallahassee, and a run-in with police after a scuffle with his son. He's talked openly about parenting children with drug issues.
Blair has an investment interest in the tea company that grows more lucrative with each store he signs up to sell the product. But if the whole drink marketing project doesn't work out, Blair has another option.
He's getting back in the wrestling ring.
At age 55, he's signed on with a rival of WWE called Traditional Championship Wrestling for occasional appearances, including recent gigs in Las Vegas, New York and Miami. Going back to the largest wrestling company, WWE, would likely mean traveling three weeks out of each month, he said, something he finds less appealing now.
He's kept the wrestling persona of "Brian Blair," and thrown himself around the ring with gusto. "In Miami, I wrestled for 45 minutes and in Vegas for 52," Blair said. Having an opponent/partner in the ring who can skillfully follow the plan and safely execute the wrestling moves makes a huge difference. "You have to be careful when you're older. You don't want to wrestle green talent – especially heavy green talent. I've been hurt enough. But it feels good to be back in the ring."