It’s Tea Time In Nuuanu
Wednesday - July 09, 2008
When the going gets tough, I’ve always believed that the tough need a place to take a deep breath and regroup. As restaurants face rising costs and falling sales, it takes more marketing skills than ever to attract customers and keep them coming back.
Michelle Henry has been attracting a loyal group eager to spread the word about her work since 1999. A clothing designer who originally set up shop on Nuuanu Avenue in 1996, she wanted to create light refreshments for her customers as she went through their designs.
“Originally I wanted a place for people to sit and eat while I was working with them, and tea naturally came to mind,” says Henry.
When the space next to her designer clothing store became available, she decided to expand.
Before long, the tea shop was outdoing the clothing store in sales as word spread around town about the delightful, peaceful spot.
Henry’s expansion came about largely because she listened to her customers.
“I heard what they had to say, listened to their ideas and followed some of them,” she says. “My customers really helped me to articulate my dream.”
Today, Tea at 1024 resembles a charming, cluttered, country cottage, with porcelain tea sets for sale alongside artwork and occasional pieces of clothing.
On First Fridays - the downtown celebration of arts and culture - Henry opens from 5 to 9 p.m. offering paintings, pastries and pots of tea.
“We call it Desserts after Dark,” she says. “People are surprised when they come in from the bustle of Chinatown to us.”
Naturally, the tea shop is a popular lunch spot for ladies and particularly for groups hosting wedding or baby showers. There’s a tea service that includes a house spinach salad, tea sandwiches (quartered in the genteel British manner with the crusts removed), homemade scones, clotted cream, jam and a choice of tea. The house tea is a blend of black tea with sweet rose petals, and there is a nice selection of black teas blended in the style of English breakfast, the stronger Irish breakfast, fragrant Earl Grey and fruity tropical varieties.
Herbal teas, peppermint infusions and iced teas also are served.
The store seats 40 people, although the larger-bottomed among you should know that the seats and tables are fairly close together, with not much room for maneuvering.
The walls are filled with Victorian-era influences, framed pictures and a potpourri of flowers, teapots and paintings.
In one corner, propped against at vibrant purple wall, is a hat stand overflowing with hats of all shapes and colors; guests are encouraged to wear hats during tea service, and there’s a selection of feather boas - the kind of dress-up items that make little girls feel grown up.
When I visited last week, there were several groups of moms and daughters enjoying real-life tea parties.
I have to admit, though, I shuddered slightly at the thought of our 3-year-old, Finn, let loose among the teacups.
“Bet you don’t get a lot of mother-and-son tea parties,” I ventured.
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” said Henry with a smile.
Open Tuesday through Saturday (with private parties of 20 or more possible on Sundays) Tea at 1024 is a part of artistic Chinatown that everyone should try at least once.
“I like to call it a respite for the weary soul,” says Henry.
Now who doesn’t need a little bit of that?
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