Earning Your Business Chops
A promotional chalkboard with the chop on the right at one of the Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Lisa and Wei Bee have the chops for running a successful business—and we mean that literally.
Their “chop” — a stamped seal, such as the ones used for more than 3,000 years in their native China — is their store’s personal signature. When the couple started their now five-unit franchise, Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they had a chop artist in China create their own personal chop using the store's name to be their logo.
In China, chops are almost like a fingerprint. They are distinctive, hard to duplicate, and when sealing an envelope, proof that no one has tampered with it. A person's signature can be duplicated, not so with a chop, the experts says.
The Bees' chop is now printed on their items.
The Chinese symbols on the traditional chop were carved into stone, usually soapstone, although some ancient royal chops were carved from jade. To create the signature, a handle was attached to the carved stone and the chop was dipped in into ink and stamped on a document, letter, or in the Bee’s case, Sweetwaters’ paper cups. Historically, the color of the ink was red, in honor of the Imperial family. In China the ink is called chop paste and the best is made with cinnabar mixed with artemisia (sagebrush, wormwood) fibers and oil, according to the authors of “The Art of Chinese Chops.” I fortuitously discovered the book, along with a set of rubber chops, on the discount table at the Frederick R Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, just a few weeks before meeting the Bees as part of the November/December cover story.
Wei Bee says he remembers in the early days when the couple did everything themselves. They couldn’t afford cups printed with their logo, so they ordered plain white paper cups and stamped the logo three times on each cup.
It was a laborious process to stay one cup ahead of the customers, but it was just one of the many artistic chores owners do to keep the coffers filled and the coffee flowing. Now the logo is printed on everything from ceramic mugs to labels for their bottled ginger-lemon-honey tea.
Progress is exilliarating— the couple is working with Franworth to grow their company, but “I miss those days,” Bee says, about the start-up phase.