Elyse & John: The Love Story Behind Harney & Sons Teas

Harney & Sons
Elyse and John Harney during his time at Cornell with sons John Jr., Keith, and Michael

Once sons John Jr., Keith, and Michael had arrived, John realized his dream and, along with three business partners, acquired the White Hart Inn in the storybook village of Salisbury, Connecticut, serving as operating general manager. By the time they eventually sold the inn to pursue John’s new dream of building a tea business, Elyse and John had two more children, Paul and daughter Elyse the younger. 

“John bought this minuscule tea concern from a retired English tea professional named Stanley Mason on condition Mr. Mason taught him all about tea—who to buy it from and how to blend it,” Elyse, the mother, says. “The brand name was Sarum Tea—Sarum was the old Roman name for Salisbury, England, where Stanley was from—and the inn was Stanley’s major customer.” 

Around this time (1982), I interviewed John by phone for inclusion in the book about tea I was writing. I liked him and his tea also, and said so in print. John sensed an opportunity and dispatched daughter Elyse on a mission to New York City. “He knew a pretty girl could get in to see a food and beverage director, so he sent her to the Waldorf Astoria with this book as a credibility statement and a single request: ‘Try our tea alongside the one the hotel serves, and see which you prefer,’” remembers her mother. The Waldorf became the first of many leading hotels to offer Harney tea, but the going was slow. In fact, when John’s wife, Elyse, took a look at his first year’s income, she applied for her real estate license. Already in their 50s, the couple had launched new careers and opened a new chapter in their remarkable romance.

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