Vicki Grafe’s Tea Time at the Cottage has quickly gained popularity in Monroe. Photo credit: Stephen Milligan | The Walton Tribune
Entering Vicki Grafe’s erstwhile cottage is like entering another world.
It’s a small, intimate space, with only a few tables, each of them covered in delicate glassware, intricately designed teacups and dainty silverware. The food is all made on the premises, baked to order and served in tiered platters while the tea comes piping hot. It’s like a children’s tea party dream world come to life, or a page out of a Jane Austen novel become real.
And it’s right in the midst of downtown Monroe.
Tea Time at the Cottage is Grafe’s vision turned reality, a business that gives her the opportunity to turn her own dreams of fancy British teas into actual experiences for customers from all over. Grafe said she’s still surprised her business plan has turned out to be received so well.
“I didn’t know if it would fly,” Grafe said. “But people really enjoy it. I have a huge clientele of repeat customers, which is huge compliment.”
Grafe had a full career as a nurse before opening Tea Time at the Cottage, spending 30 years in the medical field and raising two children before she decided it was time to do something new.
“I used to have big parties at my home, hosting 30 or 40 people at a time,” Grafe said. “I enjoyed making finger foods and playing hostess. So I decided to try that as a business.”
The result was her current event space, tucked away in a small building at the corner of Wayne Street and Highland Avenue in downtown Monroe, which she said her family transformed into its current form.
“It used to be a pet grooming business,” Grafe said. “And it smelled like it. We took it down almost to the frame and almost completely rebuilt it. It obviously wasn’t built to cook food in, so we had to install a full kitchen. It took us more than a year, almost a year and a half, to get it ready.”
Once it was ready it was an ideal space.
“It’s nice and quaint and cozy,” Grafe said. “It’s special and it’s different.”
Coming into Tea Time at the Cottage, customers are presented with a full tea service, complete with handmade foods from the kitchen and various types of tea.
“Everything is hand-made,” Grafe said. “I’m making scones, soups, quiche, desserts and more. I make everything on site except the bread.”
While customers to Tea Time at the Cottage can order items a la carte, Grafe said most customers order a tier of items for a full tea service experience, with all the fixings for the tea party every little girl dreams of. In fact, Grafe even stocks fancy hats and bonnets for customers, especially the young ones, who want to wear the proper attire for their tea party opportunity.
“It’s an experience,” Grafe said. And she said it’s not just aimed at the ladies.
“Guys love it, too,” Grafe said. “A lot of times they come in looking a bit skeptical of being here, but they like trying the food. They end up liking it and they come back.”
Right now, Tea Time at the Cottage is only open one day a week, on Saturdays, but Grafe is working to change that. She hopes to start offering service on Fridays, for a la carte orders only, and reserving Saturdays for the full tea service experience. And she’s planning to add a vehicle to her business to take tea parties to people’s homes and event spaces.
“My vision is big but I move slow,” Grafe said. “We’ve been open a little over a year and we’ve grown slow enough so I could acclimate to it.”
It’s a true famly business, too. Grafe said her adult children, who have day jobs, help on Saturdays as servers, while her husband, who also had a fulltime job, pitches in as dishwasher.
Overall, Grafe said, despite all the hard work, she loves giving people the tea experience of their dreams.
“I look at it as another way to serve people,” Grafe said.
The only irony? Grafe said, before opening her business, she was hardly a tea drinker at all.
“Believe it or not, I was a coffee drinker,” Grafe said. “I still need my morning coffee. But I’ve tried a lot of teas since starting this and I’ve definitely developed a taste for it.”