Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2001

English-inspired business suits owners to a ‘tea’

November 21, 2001

Stepping through the doors of 702 Main Street, it may seem hard to imagine the building once housed a bank and an artist's workshop. The Westminster Tea Room has cleaned away the workshop grime, given the bank vault a fresh coat of paint and brought a bit of Europe to Eudora.

The tea room, which opened in October after several years of preparation, opens to a small, living room-like sitting area where customers can enjoy a pot of tea. The rest of the larger dining room is decorated with soft colors and twinkling lights. The vault houses a separate dining area, and in the back is yet another dining area, the "brick room" with exposed brick walls. The decor includes antique furniture, tea pots and other accessories available for purchase, and drawings of English landmarks.

But this is no stuffy, Victorian tea room.

"It's not froufrou," said Joyce Barmby, who owns the tea room along with her daughter Sherryl Hunter. They classify the cuisine as Euro-classics.

The business is truly a family affair. Barmby's mother-in-law Patricia Barmby plays piano while diners eat and drink, and a slew of other family members and in-laws pitch in with serving.

Since Barmby's husband, Ray, is from England, and she had served on the board of directors for a chapter of the Daughters of the British Empire, an organization for people of British ancestry, things just seemed to fall into place.

"It's something we always wanted to do," Hunter said. "In Eudora, the people have been very friendly."

Barmby and Hunter found the building in Eudora because friends owned the property, and they like to keep things local, they said. The business uses the local hardware and grocery stores for supplies as well as insurers and banks in Eudora, too. When they look for more help outside the family, Barmby and Hunter want to hire friendly, local people.

"We feel we all need to work together," Barmby said.

That means directing customers down Main Street to shop at other downtown businesses like Ms. Judi's Gifts and Home Dr and Quilting Bits and Pieces.

The Westminster Tea Room serves salads, quiches, sandwiches, soups and desserts in addition to high tea, which involves a pot of imported English tea with finger sandwiches, scones, fresh fruit and sweets, served on three-tiered servers.

Although the tinkling piano music, soft lights and white tablecloths may seem more appropriate for bridal luncheons and other such events the tea room has found itself catering to, there is no dress code, and anyone is welcome.

Barmby said customers have walked up to the door and almost walked out because they felt underdressed, but she reassured them they were welcome.

"We even had some young boys come up," Hunter said of some 15-year-old customers. They looked neat and tidy, she said, "but they were dressed like regular kids."

In one of their next projects, Barmby and Hunter will teach etiquette and protocol classes for all ages, some of which will be offered in the evening.

"We've had a lot of response," Hunter said, specifically from greek organizations at Kansas University.

After the first of the year, the duo also plans to open a children's tea room, Lili's Tea Garden, at 729 Main Street, which would cater to children's parties.

"They can wear their best dress-up clothes," Barmby said, or children can choose vintage-type clothing like large hats.

In an adjoining area of 729 Main, they also plan to open a boutique with unique women's clothing.

Barmby said a Kansas City area group of families with children adopted from outside the United States has already expressed interest in bringing the children to the tea room when it opens. This and other private parties who have booked the Westminster as far ahead as May are a testament to the business the tea room has already done without advertising.

The tea room is open noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, but after the first of the year hours may expand to include Thursday and Friday, too. Although Barmby and Hunter have customers from Johnson County and Topeka, they want Eudorans to take advantage of what's in their home town.

"The people are just nice," Barmby said. "We've had a lot of people from Eudora come in."

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