As a child, Laura Jean Mammina got into all sorts of activities – golf, skydiving and horseback riding. But driving race cars and drinking sweet tea is what stuck.
Now, Laura Jean, 21, and her father, Joseph Mammina, 52, have founded the Southern Sweet Tea Company.
Their tea can be found in more than 200 stores, mostly in Florida, but Lucky’s Market is the first major supermarket to carry their products.
“A year ago, we weren’t even selling our tea in bottles,” Laura Jean said. “Now, we’re in Lucky’s.”
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Laura Jean, who participates in races at DeSoto Speedway, will attend Friday’s grand opening of Lucky’s Market at 3501 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. She and her father will be there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., giving customers the chance to see her car and sample their tea.
Lucky’s Market will carry their tea in all seven of its Florida stores and a deal to sell it in other states is being negotiated, according to Joseph.
“They’re our first big grocery store. They’re really nice and it’s a cool experience for our company,” Laura Jean said. “It’s taking off quicker than we thought.”
According to Laura Jean, there are no additives, acids or colors added to The Southern Sweet Tea Company’s products. It’s all-natural.
“It’s actually true southern sweet tea,” she said. “It tastes like tea.”
According to Joseph Mammina, the Southern Sweet Tea Company is the only company to include their three ingredients — purified water, pure cane sugar and a custom blend of tea — on the front and back of the label.
“When you drink other people’s tea, you get that weird aftertaste. That’s the flavor of the acids and whatever else they put in,” he said. “Most other companies add all kinds of junk. We don’t.”
The Mamminas are Bradenton natives. Joseph said he started taking Laura Jean to races when she was 2 years old. Laura Jean said that’s what got her interested in racing — and tea.
“We would go to races every Saturday and buy homemade tea from everyone else,” she said. “We liked it so much that we started making our own on the stove at home.”
One day at the track, Laura Jean asked her father if she could drive with the other racers. Joseph quickly said yes, but she didn’t think he was serious until he called her while she was in class a few days later.
“I literally had to ask to go to the bathroom to be excused,” she said. “When I picked up, I asked what’s wrong and he says, ‘I found a car! You want to race?’ ”
Laura Jean said she didn’t know how to drive a manual transmission when Joseph bought the car, but she was racing in no time.
That was four years ago.
Now, their next challenge is getting their sweat tea products into more supermarkets. Wal-Mart is next on their list.
“We’re going to just keep moving forward. That’s what we’ve been doing this whole time. Any obstacle, we just overcome,” she said.