On the outskirts of the Durham Farmers’ Market – where Foster Street meets Hunt Street, one of the friendliest vendors greets people with samples of liquid sunshine – the best sweet tea.
Roman Gabriel, the founder of Romanztea, has traveled thousands of miles physically and spiritually to find himself in Durham, sharing the tea he says is filled with “Love and Sunshine.”
How do you get love and sunshine into a nice cup of sweet tea? Gabriel, who has been making tea since he was a little boy, found a way. But this story doesn’t start there.
In fact, this story begins with what really catapulted Gabriel into not only making tea with love and grandma hugs but making it here for the people of Durham every Saturday at the Durham Farmers’ Market.
From D.C. to California
Gabriel, born in California, grew up in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area, but made his way back to California for school when he was admitted to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.
“I went out to California by myself,” said Gabriel. “I drove out there with an acquaintance friend of mine, that I went to high school with, in the middle of winter.”
The ArtCenter College of Design is more than just your regular art school, according to Gabriel. The ArtCenter College of Design offers a new model for art and design education for the 21st century, using an approach based on a conservatory like way to teaching and learning.
In Fact, according to Gabriel, the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena is not only one of the best art schools in the world, but also one of the most expensive art schools in the world. According to the colleges’ website, it has a desire to provide students with innovative learning and making spaces.
“It’s not like a liberal arts school, and you go there to discover yourself. You gotta know who the hell you are,” said Gabriel. “It is a professional art school. You go there, you are going there to learn to train to be a professional. If you an amazing illustrator/drawer, you will be an illustrator. You will come out illustrating magazines, greeting cards, newspapers. You will be a paid illustrator.”
Gabriel says that going to the ArtCenter College of Design, there was no regular homework and that it was kind of a rich kid school. Something he was not. So Gabriel knew that being at this school meant that everything he did had to be the best.
“If it was homework, it had to be good enough to get me a job against other professionals in the industry,” said Gabriel.
So while other kids were out there with their Super 8 cameras making little short movies, Gabriel says he was at a higher level.
“No my short Super 8 film, that load of film cost $20 to buy, a $100 to transfer to video, you know. And then you gotta edit it, so it’s going to be a CK (Calvin Klein) commercial, it’s gotta be the bomb,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel, went from the ArtCenter college straight into professional life to work in production at Propaganda Films. From there, Gabriel worked his way up while dealing with everything else in-between. What eventually got Gabriel to make his way from California to North Carolina was everything in-between that he experienced and all the adventures that a person could imagine.
“All the Hollywood stories, the parties with mountains of cocaine — that all exists and to my virgin Hollywood eyes, it was like wow! This is real,” said Gabriel. “How did I get here? I was literally playing that in my head. Cause I was like sitting on the top of Snoop’s front yard. Snoop hadn’t come yet, it was raining, and I had a Bluetooth headset in my ear that was connected to the producer and the executive producer and I had a walkie-talkie headset in the other ear that was connected to like my five to six cameramen. And there was a 2×4 block of wood that had cameras on UHF’s. So I could see all the cameras, and I’m in the middle of telling every cameraman where the go, how to zoom in, where to move next and I’m just thinking about the fact that my parents never let me watch T.V. So I’m like how did I get here?”
The work life of Hollywood was not just one of improbability, but Gabriel spent many weeks under the title director of the day on the set of Snoop Dogg’s show – Father Hood.
“They didn’t want to officially say that I was a director because they fired like four- five directors before me,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel was working a lot, a whole lot according to him, and was loving it. In fact, he ended up working in the middle of a writer strike. With a strike going on in Hollywood, Gabriel was able to shine.
Gabriel was making a lot of money, friends and living the life that most people in that industry dream of. But soon Gabriel started to realize that all of this money and skate to fame, didn’t really mean anything to him.
He never really thought about it at first, but it eventually came to him that he was just a painter that turned into a photographer who turned into a cinematographer and then a director.
Working 16- 18 hours a day on a show, making money, but no time to spend it.
“I’m making googobs of money but no time to spend it, cause what am I going to spend it on? A new lens. I don’t even have to buy a new lens. I can just borrow it, cause I got lenses everywhere,” said Gabriel.
After 15 years, Gabriel thought, how did I get here? What am I doing here? Those questions may have been answered on the day his friend from New York came to visit him.
One day working out, at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA, with his buddies, he saw an older man rollerblading, and thought to himself, “That looks fun as hell.”
“I’m like, I can do that, cause, one, I can ice skate right? So I got balance and, two, I can regular roller skate. But, I haven’t in years. So my buddy’s like, ‘oh yeah, man, I used to rollerblade all the time. I used to be a roller blade messenger in New York. I’ll (show) you how to rollerblade,’” said Gabriel.
So Gabriel grabbed some roller blades from his roommate’s girlfriend, and went out to Venice beach. After the first day of roller blading, Gabriel got back out on the pavement. This time he was a little full of himself.
“I’m in the parking lot doing figure 8’s,” said Gabriel.
And as he was out skating, he began to think about when he would get a chance to get back. East, back home.
And just in that same thought, Gabriel began to slip backward and to soften the blow he decided to put his hands back to catch himself. his head goes back to hit the concrete and his wrist makes a sound.
He put his hand back to cushion the fall but instead ended up smashing his wrist to pieces. Gabriel says that it was the worst pain he ever felt in his life.
Gabriel says he remembers thinking at that moment, this is the best thing that ever happened to me.
“Strangest thing ever, the most craziest pain… but I guess that’s how we program the subconscious, trauma and repetition,” said Gabriel.
Gabriel says that his buddies picked him up and drove him back home after the fall. When he got home he wrapped it up, took some ibuprofen, put some ice on it and went out to shoot a music video that night.
Sunday, Gabriel went to the Agape Spiritual Center- in Pasadena California.
“That’s where they not only teach, they practice as, we now call, The Secret,” said Gabriel.
“The Secret” is an idea based on the law of attraction, it’s concept claims that thoughts can change the world directly.
The center has five principles and seven practices that they follow in order to fulfill their purpose as beneficial presences on earth. Simply put- they’re here for God.
At the Agape center, they embody an understanding of oneness with God and they consciously practice this truth in everyday life.
At the time Gabriel was reading the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Norman Vincent Peale. The book talks about how to achieve a permanent and optimistic attitude through unending positive conscious thought.
In this book, Gabriel zoomed in on one particular part of the book, It was the statement “pain is like a signal.”
“It’s like a signal to tell you where something needs repair and how much attention that space and repair needs. That’s all pain is,” said Gabriel.
He says that If you were to cut your finger, a message is sent to your brain and the amount of pain you feel determines how bad the cut really is.
“If you start to attend to it (the pain), do you really need that message anymore?” said Gabriel.
Gabriel describes the pain as information and energy, that you can’t ignore it. So you can’t ignore the pain according to Gabriel, but you can control it.
Gabriel says that it is your information, so you have the ability to change that very information and energy.
“So, now that you know it needs help. You can say, well, turn that into a super healing energy. Tell it all to heal fast and nice and massage you and… cause it’s still your energy, and you can’t destroy energy, but you can transform it.”
After going to the Agape Center, Gabriel went to see a doctor, after getting his x-rays, Gabriel was told by the doctor that he should be screaming really loud. The doctor told him that everything in his wrist was broken and that he needed surgery.
Not only did he need surgery, but Gabriel was informed that the surgery may or may not go well, and he may not use his hand again. Gabriel was facing a surgery that may not be successful and a life that could involve never working in film again.
Gabriel told the doctor, that he needed to be able to hold a camera and write a script.
Along with worrying about if he will be able to hold a camera again, Gabriel thought that because of his spiritual journey and the meditation he had been doing that the anesthesia just wouldn’t work. He, thought to himself, “I really hope I don’t feel them perform this surgery.”
With that being said Gabriel didn’t even get to make it to ten in his head, he was out before he knew it.
Gabriel woke up to clapping and cheering and all the while Gabriel was wondering “Why is everyone surprised.” Apparently, his hand was more busted up than the doctor thought. When they went in, the doctor found that Gabriel’s tendons that help move the fingers in his hand had snapped.
So now Gabriel was looking at broken bones, snapped tendons and uncertainty of what was next for him and his growing career.
Inside his wrist, were pins and rods going straight through and all the pain that comes with such an extreme surgery.
“They forgot to put me on a post-op pain drip,” said Gabriel.
After the surgery, Gabriel’s blood pressure had gone up, and wasn’t allowed to have any pain medication until three days later.
So for three days, he was in pure pain. The pain was almost as bad as the pain he felt when he fell. Gabriel called his family, and they told him to come home, because the fact was he couldn’t hold a camera anymore.
Stuck in a cast for a year Gabriel found himself having to start over in life. So he moved in with his dad until he could get back on his feet.
Roman was facing a shift in the atmosphere.
Roman, after coming to North Carolina, is getting back to who he is. No Camera, No director of the day, no “googobs” of money, just pure sweet tea.
While staying at his father’s house and working a regular job, Roman began to mix together teas at home and work. One day at work, a co-worker took the bottle of tea Gabriel had with him.
“He took the bottle and put like 15 dollars in my pocket. I was like man that’s my tea and $15 is too much,” said Gabriel. “He was like, ‘naw, I buy lemonade from Southern Seasons in Chapel Hill and that’s like $9.’ I was like, you right.”
As the requests began to grow, Gabriel knew he had to find a bigger receptacle to make the tea in, and a bigger strainer. In the process of trying to find those items, especially the strainer, he found Bull City Fabrications.
Bob Pickard, the owner of Bull City Fabrications, was intrigued by Gabriel’s request for his special made strainer and asked what he needed it for. Gabriel politely told him, “I’m sun brewing tea.”
Pickard priced out his strainer for him and asked if Gabriel had any of that tea with him.
Gabriel gave Pickard some of the tea and he said, “This is some damn good tea. You at the Farmers” Market?”
Gabriel told him no and that he had trouble getting into things like that (the Farmers’ Market).
So Bob told him, that he owns the building, and suggested that he set-up in front of his building. Pickard told Gabriel, “Why don’t you set up at my spot? You’ll be at the Farmers’ Market, but not officially”
Gabriel ecstatic at the idea asked Pickard how much he would charge to set up shop? Gabriel says that Pickard told him, “I like what you’re doing, maybe give me a bottle of tea every now and then.”
Thanks to the kindness of Bull City Fabrication, the visitors of Durham Farmers’ Market, can enjoy the taste of liquid sunshine.
Romanztea is an original artisan specialty and deliciously complex flavor brewed southern sweet tea made with “Love and Sunshine!” and a few grandma hugs