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Our tea room story began in 2002 when we came up with a promotion for our well-established gift shop located inside a shopping mall. The space next to our shop was empty, so we approached our mall management with the idea of holding a special afternoon tea event over Mother's Day weekend. They agreed to let us use the space, so we began collecting chairs and tables from yard sales and gave them a coat of white paint. Our walls were covered with floral sheets and our "kitchen" was separated from the "dining room" with more floral curtains. We borrowed English china tea cups and saucers and silver tea spoons and accessories from our gift shop, and armed with a few great recipes, we started selling tickets to our event.
Tickets sold out quickly, so we added another weekend, and then another, and just like that, we were in the restaurant business. We spent a few months remodeling the space to accommodate our needs and opened in November of 2002 as a "real" restaurant.
Fast forward to 2005....our mall was sold to a big development company and we didn't like the direction they were headed, so began looking for a new home. We found a beautiful 1890's Victorian in a small town about 35 minutes from our old location, and when all the pieces fell into place, we knew we had found the perfect place; our business is on the main floor and we live upstairs. After a year of renovations, we opened in late 2006, and have been serving afternoon tea five days a week ever since.
In normal times, we employ 10-12 persons and can serve 120 guests each day. Our gift shop is stocked with clothing, jewelry and accessories, florals, seasonal gifts and home decor, as well as loads of tabletop, including vintage tea cups, Royal Albert china, Burleigh pottery and tea time accoutrements. Our tearoom patrons all pay their bill in the gift shop, so they get tempted on their way to the register. Gift sales are 22-25% of our total sales.
We felt like we had the whole tearoom gig pretty well figured out, but then Covid hit.
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As we started to think about offering afternoon tea "to go", we realized that we had a niche to fill. People were still going to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions, and while we know how to create a magical experience in our dining rooms, we had to really think how we could translate that to an experience that would work at home or for small socially distant gatherings.
We began brainstorming ways we could provide a special experience rather than just food as sustenance. We found silver trays at the Dollar Tree (which I have yet to find a better price on!) and sold an Easter Tea Brunch presented on the trays, and then a beautiful Mother's Day Tea served on the tray, but packaged together with sparkling cider and other goodies in a big pink box. We quickly realized that people are willing to spend more for a beautiful presentation and they want the little fancy touches that make a memorable experience.
We also began putting together gift sets using merchandise from our shop, like a tea cup filled with sweet treats, a small package of tea and a lovely hand cream, and a girl's birthday box with tea cup, cupcake, bubbles and other trinkets. Many times, these gifts were picked up along with a meal, making us a one-stop-shop for our client's convenience, while adding more revenue.
We kept dreaming up more ways to make our takeout teas special, and other product offerings for our online shop but couldn't find many of the things we were looking for. We began looking into sourcing direct and importing some of the specialty items we wanted. It has been a challenging experience...late nights due to the time difference in other countries, language barriers, learning to think in the metric system, importing codes, et cetera.
We realized that other tearooms might also be looking for some of the products we are designing and/or importing. With each item we make available to others in our industry, we will share how we used the item, where we sourced other items in the presentation and any tips or tricks we discovered along the way and will have a blog with informative posts to inspire and encourage you.
We believe that collaboration is good for our industry and are rooting for your success.