Tearoom sweetens Main Street

October 22, 2006|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,Special to The Sun

For more than five years, there's been something brewing in Bel Air, and it all started with a prayer.

Erin Bradley and Janet Meyers, owners of Tea by Two on South Main Street, have created a tearoom filled with soft music, bright decor and tables set with china.

The founders are best friends who met about 20 years ago. Bradley and Meyers worked in Hunt Valley for an international insurance company. They enjoyed their jobs, they said, but they got to that point where they wanted something else.

"We had tea as a hobby," Bradley said. "We used to enjoy serving different kinds of tea to the family."

When they had the idea to start a tearoom, they called their two closest friends, had them over for tea and told them about their dream.

"They were friends that went to church with us, and we asked them to pray, and we would see what would happen before we started putting a lot of resources in things. We prayed with friends and then, from there we just started," Bradley said. "We could do this, and it could be fun."

Their success is a combination of finding the right place and learning to do what one does best. Bradley is the chief cook and bookkeeper. Meyers is the greeter and decorator.

They turned the house beside Richardson's Flowers and Gifts, the former home of Margaret Magness Richardson, the founder of the florist shop, into a peaceful tearoom in an age of fast food.

"Their tearoom is a celebration of tea," said Billie Jane Crouse, who visited within months of the opening.

"Tea by Two evokes memories of visits with Grandma amongst their crisp table linens and family heirlooms," she said.

The teas and sugar were on the table. Customers were given a choice of more than 40 flavors, including Tranquility tea and a pot of the Nutty Irishman, a green tea.

The invitation to have more than one pot of tea came as a surprise to guests. As the pots were emptied, tables of two to four were given new flavors to try.

"I think people like to be surprised," Bradley said.

After the first six months, the shop's books were balancing, she said. Now, the tearoom is turning a profit.

The menu includes soups such as cream of asparagus, warm scones with clotted cream and lemon, and delicate yet substantial tea sandwiches.

Reservations are preferred, but walk-ins are accepted if a table is available for afternoon tea or light tea, Bradley said.

Bradley, from Perry Hall, was the youngest of four children and Meyers, from Glen Arm, the second youngest of five. Cooperation was easy for the pair when they joined forces.

"Janet is the artistic one. She sets the tables and fixes the dishes for the tables," Bradley said.

She added, "We wanted it to be a place that was serene and away from all the stress."

Joyce Rizer said her sister introduced her to the tearoom.

"The tearoom is a respite from a busy world. It's the whole package, with flowers on the tables, delicious food in a lovely presentation," Rizer said.

Starting with an idea and then asking the Harford Community College Small Business Development Center for counseling got the founders going.

Bradley and Meyers had visited other tearooms such as the Joy Garden in New Freedom, Pa., and took notes.

"Go find a location," counselor Russell Teter told them.

"Of course, we were thinking, `We're not ready to open yet,' but it was really helpful," Bradley said.

A friend driving on South Main Street saw the "for rent" sign on the 1922 Cape Cod-style house.

The house was theirs to rent, but the main room was covered with dark paneling. Windows had to be installed, as did hardwood flooring, and walls had to be painted a soft yellow.

It took time to navigate the permit process and get the right contractors for the work. For their transformation of the building, they received an Appearance and Beautification Committee Award from the town of Bel Air.

"Family and friends were a big help to us," Bradley said. One relative sewed the tablecloths, and a niece designed the menu.

Crouse, of Forest Hill, said she liked the ambience, music and design from the start. "It's just a wonderful place for friends and family to get together for events such as bridal showers, weddings, graduation parties and the Red Hat Society. It's just a blend of people there that's wonderful. It's really a high spot of the community," she said.

Eugene and Agnes Bradley - Erin Bradley's parents, who live in Perry Hall - and Joyce and Albert Meyers - Meyers' parents, who live in Forest Hill - are regular customers.

The founders have had little time to spare but have taken some to find recipes and develop some originals.

They cater to a steady stream of customers Tuesday through Saturday.

Fans of the tearoom are not all women. Larry Blake, whose wife, Jeannette, helps with the gardens in the front, said, "I love the cucumber sandwiches and the short cakes, the scones. They're very good.

"I always liked the black tea, too. Of course, I'm a coffee drinker, mostly, but Erin told me about the black tea," he said.

Jeannette Blake and daughter Courtney visit for tea often, Larry Blake said. Most people who go to the tearoom wear casual clothes and sometimes straw hats, in season.

People notice the plants on the front porch and stop to admire the grounds or sit in porch rockers.

Inside, there are colorful and interesting tea-related gift items such as accessories including lemon squeezers, tea strainers, sugar bowls, reamers, teapot charms and bracelets. Teas for sale include mint julep, tropical fruit and pumpkin.

"Tearooms are popping up everywhere," Bradley said. "I think people are really getting into tea now. They're learning about the health benefits of it." A type called lemon myrtle is loaded with antioxidants, she said.

On the Web: www.teabytwo.com. For reservations, call 410-838-8611.

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