Archive for Thursday, January 6, 2005

Tea for two

January 6, 2005

Little girls love to make big plans with their best friends. Some plan to marry twin brothers when they grow up or vow they will live next door to each other their whole lives.

But Eudora's Main Street has benefited from the dream of two long-time best friends recently going into business together.

Bonnie Freeland, Shawnee, and Susan Orscheln, Lenexa, met in the seventh grade. Both played the clarinet in their middle school band in Kansas City, Kan.

Almost 35 years have passed since that first meeting. Neither plays the clarinet anymore. Now those artistic, creative instincts are focused on running Madame Hatter's Tea Room at 702 Main Street in Eudora.

For years, Freeland and Orscheln had imagined opening a lunch cafe and had visited many tea rooms together. So when the opportunity to purchase Madame Hatter's arose, they didn't pass it up.

Freeland and Orscheln bought Madame Hatter's from Thomas and Lauren Smith of Eudora. The change of ownership was official Nov. 1, which proved to be lucky timing for both parties.

Freeland said that after a year-and-a-half in business, the Smiths decided to close Madame Hatter's to spend more time with their young family and to concentrate on another business owned by the family.

Freeland had worked in the insurance industry for 18 years when she was notified in October that she would soon be laid off. To get her mind off the disappointment, she and Orscheln decided to take a trip to Missouri for a "girls' getaway."

When they returned, they were informed that the Smiths were planning to close Madame Hatter's and that the tea room might be for sale.

Freeland and Orscheln knew of the tea room because they had visited shortly after it opened. They contacted the Smiths, a deal was made and the tea room was theirs in less than two weeks. The two best friends worked with the Smiths for one week before the turnover, making the transition seamless.

Madame Hatter's was a good fit for Freeland, who had culinary experience, and Orscheln, who worked in sales with her husband's trucking company and was "wonderful with people," Freeland said.

Together, the two helped maintain the elegant but playful atmosphere known to those who frequented Madame Hatter's. The lilac-colored walls remained draped with old dresses and costume hats. Old chairs painted in vibrant colors still surrounded the small tables perpetually dressed for a tea party and dainty parasols were left suspended from the ceiling.

But perhaps the most important part of the Madame Hatter's experience that Freeland and Orscheln wanted to maintain was "the vault" -- a small room with a heavy door they believe used to be a real bank vault.

The name fit because the vault still stored Madame Hatter's treasures, including countless pieces of vintage jewelry, feather boas and ornate hats, all available for guests who want to dress up.

"All the ladies go back and just giggle," Orscheln said.

Besides being a lunch destination, Madame Hatter's has hosted tea parties for bridal and baby showers and birthday parties for ladies of any age. Little girls were served pink lemonade in their teacups while they ran back and forth from the vault to change costumes.

"The children do have a ball," Freeland said.

The women said they enjoyed doing business in Eudora and had been warmly welcomed by other Main Street businesses. They said they liked to encourage guests from out of town to visit other shops on Main Street, and that other businesses had sent customers in the direction of Madame Hatter's too.

"It's good for all of us," Orscheln said. "We're a good draw for them, and they're a good draw for us."

Freeland said the business venture had been a fun way for the two best friends to spend time together.

"We're getting to know each other in a whole different way," she said. "It's a blast just to be with your best friend."

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