Syracuse University Magazine

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Todd Rubin '04

Tea Time

At the School of Architecture, where Todd Rubin spent long nights toiling over the drafting table, most of his fellow students pumped themselves with coffee to stay awake. But Rubin is a tea man. His senior architectural thesis explored how tea informs rituals and rituals inform tea history through the design of a tea importer’s headquarters and museum in Boston. 

It’s only natural, considering Rubin’s family has a long history in the beverage business. His father and grandfather had a liquor and wine distributorship in Southern Illinois. As that field began to consolidate, Rubin’s father became the Southeastern distributor for Clearly Canadian, one of the first sparkling flavored waters, and in 1994, he purchased the fledgling Republic of Tea, a Novato, California-based supplier of teas and herbs from around the world. The Republic of Tea is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary and is the leading purveyor of premium specialty teas in the United States, one of the first to retail rooibos and white tea varieties to American consumers.

Although Rubin had worked doing product demonstrations during high school, he had long been passionate about art, design, and photography. A college counselor steered him toward architecture. After completing the five-year Syracuse program, Rubin worked for a New York architecture firm for three years before finding himself at a crossroads. While considering changing firms, he learned there was an opening at The Republic of Tea. Drawn to the family business, he joined the company as a national sales manager for the East Coast. 

Now vice president of the company—or Minister of Evolution (it’s a whimsical company)—Rubin manages the company's key Embassies (customers), such as Panera Bread and Crate & Barrel, as well as the firm’s marketing operation and internal product development team. Since December, when his father purchased a winery in Sonoma, California, Rubin has essentially been running the day-to-day business as well. So far, satisfying his creative nature hasn’t been a problem. “As part of the specialty foods industry, we’re the innovators in the tea category,” he says. “Being a small, family-owned company allows us to anticipate trends and go to market faster.” 

Rubin remains associated with the School of Architecture as a member of its advisory board and recently funded the Rubin Global Design Studio, a unique study abroad program for architecture graduate students. The program brings a visiting architect to Syracuse to teach a design studio in collaboration with a faculty member, and then takes first-year graduate students to an international city for a week to study urban and architectural design. The trip provides students with the opportunity to experience the public space that results from a variety of cultural and political conditions and sustainability policies. It’s an experience Rubin finds easily relatable. As a student, he spent a year in Florence, traveling to eight different countries. “It was by far the educational experience that had the greatest impact on me, and I know some people just don’t have that opportunity,” he says.

In February, Rubin met up with 19 first-year graduate program students in Copenhagen. “For three days, I was back in school with students,” he says. “I got to learn, without being responsible for any completed work.” In April, he traveled to Syracuse to attend the final review of the students’ design work. “The assumption was they would take what they learned and apply it to their coursework,” he says. “So I got to see firsthand what kind of impact the trip had on them.”

Rubin plans for the Global Design Studio to be an annual event. “It’s a way to combine giving back to Syracuse and staying connected with architecture with discovering and exploring new cities around the world,” he says.  —Renée Gearhart Levy