Tearoom is product of friendship, vision

November 28, 1993|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

What would compel three Harford County women, all 40ish and with steady jobs, to change careers and open a Victorian tearoom?

For one, it was the prospect of working with children and teaching them etiquette and manners. For another, it was the chance to bake delicious, mouthwatering desserts. For the third, it fulfilled a desire to pursue a hobby of making crafts.

For each of them, it meant working with friends.

The entrepreneurs -- Karen Wolf, Nancy Weibel and Susan Loyd -- spent a year looking for a location for their business, finally settling on a former one-room schoolhouse on Pleasantville Road that they have transformed into the Heritage Tea Room.

Lace curtains, properly folded napkins and candlelight greet visitors who want to linger over tea and fancy desserts.

"This is real girl food," said Ann Osman, a Bel Air internist who was enjoying an afternoon break with her 10-year-old daughter Dahlia. "The United States needs places like this."

"It reminds me of Williamsburg," Dahlia whispered to her mother.

The cozy dining room, which seats 20, could have been transplanted from the Colonial Virginia city. Dried-flower wreaths adorn the cream-colored walls accented by deep blue moldings, and single candles burn in the windows.

The tables are covered with dark burgundy-print tablecloths and set with fine silverware. Classical music plays in the background.

The shop, which also features rooms with antiques, crafts and gift items for sale, offers tea parties for the younger set, too.

Mrs. Wolf, who was director of Fallston Community Pre-Kindergarten, teaches children the art of drinking tea.

"We teach manners and where the teacup should go and how to fold the napkin," said Mrs. Wolf, who uses her preschool skills to play old-fashioned parlor games and to read books to the youngsters who dress up in turn-of-the-century clothing.

It was her nursery school ties that introduced her to Mrs. Weibel and Mrs. Loyd, who were teachers at the school.

The women at first talked about opening a bookstore. Gradually, the idea of a tearoom with gifts took shape, blending all of their interests: Mrs. Wolf's with children and books, Mrs. Weibel's with crafts and Mrs. Loyd's with cooking.

It also helped that Mrs. Loyd's mother-in-law had had a similar shop in Indiana and provided them with advice -- and her famous dessert, a lemon torte.

"It's a secret recipe," said Mrs. Weibel, who was waiting on tables on a recent Friday.

The torte, a luscious concoction of lemon cream and meringue, is only one of many sweets offered. Mrs. Loyd, who is the sole baker, also prepares such temptations as chocolate sin -- a rich, flourless chocolate cake -- and pumpkin cheesecake to go with a variety of teas plus America's favorite brew, coffee.

The women, who all live in Fallston, acknowledge they knew nothing about business, but they plunged ahead anyway, piecing together money to launch the project.

"We put up our own money," said Mrs. Wolf, estimating the trio had raised about $20,000 in seed money, or what they laughingly call "capital improvements."

"My husband kept asking how many more capital improvements were needed," she said.

The women had their work cut out for them. The building they chose had evolved from a schoolhouse to a storage shed for a nearby nursery.

"You had to have vision," said Mrs. Loyd with a mock grimace, recalling the pallets of fertilizer and odor of manure.

Their vision has also broadened since the October opening to include children's birthday parties, luncheons for private parties and craft classes.

"It grew slowly," said Mrs. Wolf. "And it's good that it did. It gave us time to practice our roles."

At a recent Christmas open house, Mrs. Weibel shook her head in amazement at the crowd.

"There was a time when our families would call and say, 'Do you have any people?' "

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