Take Tea owner Nann Thomson wants to create an experience. Her newly opened tea room isn’t merely a restaurant, it’s a destination. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Nann about her dream of creating an authentic place for people to enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea.
NAN PRICE: Has it always been your dream to own your own business?
NANN THOMSON: I don’t think it’s always been my dream to own my own business, but I have owned a business in the past. I’m an attorney in the state of Connecticut and I worked at a few small boutique-like firms, but I was very happy when I was a solo practitioner. So, I have owned a business, but that was in the 1980s and 1990s.
NAN: When and why did you decide to start this business?
NANN: This dream to own a tea room evolved from my experiences living in Ireland in the 1970s and my living in England, where I studied law at Exeter for a term during the 1980s.
Around 2000 I was waiting to adopt a child from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and felt that I needed to pivot, stop litigating, and do something else. I had majored in English as an undergraduate and earned a degree in English education. I participated in the Alternate Route to Certification (ARC) program, where I became certified in home economics.
I decided to go back to teaching. I had represented children for most of about 20 years of my legal career. I was the first legal director of the Children’s Law Center of Connecticut. So, I thought I’d teach child development. By happenstance, my first job as a home ec teacher was about foods and culinary.
NAN: Did that spark your interest in wanting to own a café or a restaurant?
NANN: I didn’t really want to open a restaurant. I knew it was a lot of work. I love teaching and interacting with students, and I thought I would continue out my days as a teacher until I retired. While I was a teacher, I got training in both culinary and food service operation because I was teaching a ProStart program, which is a two-year, industry-based curriculum that was promulgated by the National Restaurant Association. So, I got a lot of exposure to all sides of food service.
NAN: So, why did you decide to open Take Tea?
NANN: In June 2020, I stopped teaching because of COVID-19. I was sitting on my couch, which is where I had been teaching from March until June, and realized that I didn’t want to continue teaching and I had to do something else. The tea room idea had been fermenting for years. But it had been kept down because I was doing something else I thought was valuable to me and to other people.
I started thinking it was a possibility. I knew there were a lot of moving parts and I had a really educated guess as to the demands on a person who is going to start that kind of a business—and this is not withstanding COVID-19.
NAN: Tell us about delving in and getting the business started.
NANN: When I decided I wanted to do something else, I was excited at the prospect of making my dream come true, but I also realized I needed to get some information I didn’t have. When I contacted the bank to find out about possible loans, the banker directed me to SCORE.
NAN: Did you reach out to any other local resources?
NANN: I talked to some restaurateurs who had to close during the pandemic. A lot of my equipment and things have come from closed businesses. One business owner was very open with me about why his establishment wasn’t successful. He candidly told me: I had no business opening a restaurant. I didn’t understand what I needed to know to get things done and how all parts have to fit together fairly perfectly for you to be successful. Especially a restaurant, especially because of COVID-19.
I had been doing “research.” Last summer a friend from Scotland and I visited the five team rooms within an hour of Avon. We did it for our enjoyment, but it was also to see what we thought was and wasn’t working well in other tea rooms.
I also talked to one of the owners of Mrs. Bridge’s, a lovely tea room that has since closed out in Woodstock. Even though they had closed, she responded to my inquiry and was gracious enough to speak for a couple of hours. I got all kinds of miscellaneous information, including vendors and sources, and even a recipe that I use in our tea room.
And I did a lot of online research visiting American tea rooms’ websites, reading their menus and prices, and looking at anything they were presenting to the public. I found another retired home ec teacher who was the owner of a successful Virginia tea room, The Tea Cart. She’s shared everything from vendor names to encouragement.
NAN: Tell us a little about your team.
NANN: Sara McHugh, a former culinary student of mine, is the Dining Room Manager and Director of Hospitality. About a year ago, I got in touch with her and I explained my concept. She was looking for work and very excited about the prospect of working with me. Sara was a very adept culinary student who majored in marketing in college. So, she has a lot of useful skills, as well as being hardworking and wonderful. Sara has a ServSafe certification and is qualified to operate the tea room.
The other part of the team is my son Jonathan, who’s about to “graduate” from a special education transition program. He’s completed hours of safety and sanitation training and is ServSafe food handler certified.
NAN: Any final thoughts?
NANN: I’ve always been intrigued with hospitality. It’s very important to me and I feel it’s integral to the success of a restaurant. Before we opened, I gave Sara books to read written by Danny Meyer and Charlie Trotter, two restaurateurs who put a premium on providing top-rate hospitality.
Also, I think it’s important to point out that “taking tea” is really about the experience, not the food. Our visitors get the benefits of visiting a British-style tea room and the connection to Britain and the food. They also get the benefits of slowing down and enjoying one another’s company.
People need to reconnect—especially given this pandemic. So, this is an experience. Visitors have been thrilled to come to a place they feel is safe and sit and spend a couple of hours, enjoy a couple of pots of tea, and just share.