A CLOSET FULL OF COSTUMES & A CUPBOARD FULL OF TEA:
MEET VALARIE LABORE
CONTINUED / PART II
Goose Mother: It truly is a delight to converse with Valarie! I find her to be a warm and friendly person who possesses the ability to laugh at herself and has a keen eye for detail. Valarie is graciously navigating the course into the world of costuming from her own beginnings. But don’t be fooled! She begins with the miniscule and then you find yourself in a vastly intriguing world.
As she hinted previously, her early visits to tea rooms and afternoon teas was a part of her own inspiration into costuming. However, we are about to learn how a simple afternoon tea developed into a small local business.
Now, I will be honest here. At first I felt my eyebrows pull closer together and my brain went, HUH??? I know the Brits make a ritual of tea. Past that, I never really gave much thought to the matter. But, leave it to Valarie accompanied by her exquisite finesse and you will find an experience that is so yummy, delightful and educational!
Valarie, I know you’ve shared this story on your own website, but will you please share it here?
Valarie LaBore: Of course! Let’s see … years ago on my first visit to Canada with my mom, I had my very first experience of an afternoon tea. It was at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. And I’ve never forgotten it! Many years after that experience, a dear friend of mine, Sue, who happens to hail from England, began a tradition amongst friends of holding an afternoon tea on Boxing Day (December 26). It was actually an all day, open house tea party. Everything, and I do mean everything, was hand baked by Sue with special ingredients brought from England by her aunt. There were sausage rolls, fresh scones, tiny glasses of sherry and, of course, tea. The entire afternoon was spent indulging in this fare as friends came and went all day long.
Sadly, Sue passed away in 2000. As many of us looked forward to Sue’s Boxing Day tea, partly in honor of Sue and to keep our little tradition going, I took it upon myself to continue it.
I began rummaging around in my china cupboard and retrieving all the tea cups, saucers and dainty plates that had been passed on to me by my relatives. I sent out invitations to all the old friends of the tradition and added a few of my own. However, as fate would have it, instead of people dropping by a few at a time, they all arrived at once!! I began to panic. A close friend helped me retain my composure. So, I made it through my own very first tea party.
I continued the memorial to Sue and her tea tradition for all my friends over the years, but I found myself dreaming of establishing my own tea room. However, reality set in and I scaled it back to a small catering business. This is how Just A Cup of Tea came into being.
Goose Mother: I wanted you to retell this because I found it a very heart warming and touching story. Further, here in the States, people are more into coffee than they are into tea and many, like myself, are unaware of all the other goodies that are included in traditional teas. So I would imagine that some education regarding the tradition is in order.
Valarie LaBore: Yes, this is true. I am always attempting to convert friends over to tea. Not that I expect them to give up their coffee, but I’ve discovered that the soothing atmosphere and beauty of tea is what they find most inviting and alluring.
Goose Mother: Your own experience in Victoria, British Columbia obviously gained your attention. When you entertained the idea of starting your own tea room, how did you research what this would require?
Valarie LaBore: I began seeking out tea rooms I could visit and vacations became opportunities to do just that. Once in a tea room, I would observe the servers and, when possible, I would visit the kitchen to observe the set-up. I educated myself on etiquette. I began purchasing tea cups and antique china and tea pots. I designed menus and business cards on my computer. My thinking on this was that if I did it in small increments, I would save myself from having to make large outlays in the future. And, by designing menus and business cards on my own, I was being both frugal and cautious as I was not certain how well it would be received. I was seriously gearing up to acquiring my own establishment, even tho’ it would be a few years into the future. A friend suggested I make it a catering business. Creative idea! This would allow me to begin immediately with no storefront to worry about. And that’s exactly what I did.
The first thing I did after deciding to start a catering business was to enroll myself in a college class in order to obtain my food handler’s license. My kitchen got really cleaned out after taking that! You’d be amazed at the number of items we have in our cupboards that expired two or more years ago. That class was quite an eye-opener and it did make me a little obsessive about cleanliness in my kitchen.
Next, I set up a website. I began making business cards and flyers on my computer and printing them up and handing them out. I handed them out in antique shops. I found an English tea shop owned and run by a delightful English lady who allowed me to place my flyers and business cards. She was helpful in supplying a few referrals.
Now, being that I am a one-woman show, I had to limit myself to no more than 35 people per reservation which was all the china place settings I had available for use.
After I’d done a couple tea parties, I started getting referrals from my clients, especially when I did a couple Red Hat groups. I think my favorite was a luncheon for a group of career ladies. Other groups included a bible study, and a couple of bridal showers. Here is a photo of a Civil War reenactors group I catered a tea for. This one is a peach Regency costume I wore when I catered a Christmas tea for a Red Hat Society group. I experimented with wearing different costumes when I catered teas, but in the end I decided I wanted to dress as an Edwardian maid (see above photo) and gave myself the title, “The Tea Maid.” I do plan to make a more authentic costume sometime soon.
In the meantime my friend, Karen (who I called my Tea Roadie), and I spent one summer driving around Southern California visiting any tea room we could find. Besides finding some great food and serving ideas, we started sharing our adventures and reviews on a Yahoo Group we were on called Afternoon Tea Across America. The members were lovers of afternoon tea and included tearoom owners and caterers also. The site has been going since the year 2000, and I found it about a year after it started. We all share tearoom reviews, recipes, and anything related to tea. Once I was comfortable doing more things on my own tea website, I set up a tearoom review page and wrote reviews of all the tearooms I’d been to. I got referrals from that because people would do a search for a tearoom and up popped my review. Then they followed the link back to my catering site.
Then I decided to start a tea society and it wasn’t hard to find other ladies around that wanted to visit a tearoom every month. I set up a tea newsletter and wrote articles for it and mailed it out. *Are you starting to see a pattern here? It’s apparent I love to write.* I kept that going for about two years, but it got to be too much pressure with having to work at the same time. So I found another tea society that had started up and joined in with them. That way I didn’t have to do all the work.
After I had been doing this for about five years, I noticed online classes were being offered on how to start a tea room. At one point I was contacted by one of them and interviewed quite extensively on how I started. It was quite an ego-boost to have people asking me!!
Goose Mother: Honestly, when this was first presented to me, I had to think about it. But, the idea became more attractive the longer I pondered it. It’s something that doesn’t actually require some very special occasion. A small intimate gathering of friends just getting together will do and it’s so unique and intriguing. Not to mention an “excuse” to dress up if you are so inclined. I know you’d be game for that!! (we laugh).
You also tell a story about a group of 13 year old girls you catered a tea for. I’ll bet that had you a bit anxious and nervous.
Valarie LaBore: Well, yes I was a bit anxious about it at the time, but I was both amused and pleasantly surprised at how receptive they all were to the experience.
Goose Mother: If one decided to host an afternoon tea, what can one expect?
Valarie LaBore: I arrive at the client’s home and set up all the place settings or set up a buffet style. It depends upon the client’s preferences and space. I then play soft classical music courtesy my ipod as I warm the food in the kitchen. During this period of time the client is usually greeting her arriving guests. Once all the guests are present, I begin serving the food or arranging it on the buffet. When all the guests are seated, I read a passage from the book, If Teacups Could Talk, by Emilie Barnes. This passage speaks to how we all need to slow down and give more of ourselves to friends while we are seated together. This tends to set the mood and allows the guests to calm down and the opportunity to enjoy the moment. I then speak a bit about the history of tea and explain the proper way to prepare a pot of tea. If not prepared properly the tea will be bitter which is why many people don’t like tea. I also tell them what foods they are being served. Then I am generally asked questions. An afternoon tea is often a very new experience for most attendees. When they leave, I often hear sighs of relaxation from them. That’s when I know it was a job well done. Then I set about cleaning up so that my client barely knows I was there when I leave.
Goose Mother: I highly encourage you to visit Just A Cup of Tea. If you happen to reside in San Diego County, you may want to consider giving this a try. It may require a small amount of planning, but instead of running over to the local restaurant for a bite to eat and to get-together with a few friends, treat yourselves to a truly unique and yummy experience and one you won’t soon forget!!
To Be Continued ….