Delight and passion. These are words Susanne Brown uses to describe Annabelle’s Tea Room and Restaurant, where she’s been serving tea and luncheon for the past eight years.
By Suzanne Boles
For Brown, the concept of a tea room was percolating in her mind long before she purchased an 1849 historic home/farmhouse in Kingsville, Ont., along the north shore of Lake Erie. In fact, she still fondly remembers having tea with her grandmother when she was a little girl.
“My grandmother was as British as they come. Her teatime was pretty humble. It was cookies and tea. She had it every day. You were included when you went there, so a lot of times on my way home [from school] I would go to her house. I had my own tea set, which was my mother’s tea set. Every time I look at it I think of humble beginnings, a cookie and a cup of tea.”
Annabelle’s builds on those warm feelings. Brown undertook an extensive renovation to recreate that English tearoom feeling. Over more than a year, her team painstakingly replicated the original building and filled it with antiques to capture the era. For many the job would have been daunting. For Brown, it was “my pure joy” to transform what she calls “a diamond in the rough” to a “totally updated and polished gem.”
It was one of the most important factors in creating her vision for the tea room, right down to every detail.
“Everything from the plate to the food is designed to make it the most beautiful we can,” she says. White tablecloths, shining silverware and china tea cups and plates adorn each table.
“We also match the food with the décor, for example, decorated sugar cubes in the sugar bowl. And we go over the top on decorating for Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day. We blend from one occasion to another.”
The menu includes a tea service with scones and Devon cream with preserves, tea sandwiches and petite desserts. There are also heartier offerings like a portobello baguette sandwich, quiche, tea house burger, grilled turkey and brie cheese sandwich, to name just a few of the menu items.
“We put as much attention into lunch as into tea time, with little cakes, cookies, sandwiches, and petit fours. There’s a lot of man hours involved,” says Brown, who is also the chef, working alongside a sous chef and line cook.
“We try to keep the menu constantly evolving and improving every single day,” she adds, plus Brown works with a lot of local farms and knows which farm stands to patronize for the best fresh products.
Great dedication is what drives Brown to make her tea room so successful. “It takes a lot of hours and a lot of study to keep abreast of changes in the industry,” she notes. “There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not at the computer to see what’s happening and making sure that we’re better. It’s not good enough to be just good.”
Annabelle’s top tea room tips
- Sweat the details. The tea business is all about the detail, from décor to plating.
- Get ready for long hours. The nature of a tea room is that it will demand a time commitment.
- Find your niche, stay true to it, make it the best for you and your customers.