By Melissa Placzek • Photography by Melissa and Jeff Placzek
Having afternoon tea at Heirlooms Tea Room transports guests to days gone by. “I’ve always loved beautiful, feminine things: delicate china, soft vintage linens, antique furniture, and classic novels,” says Audrey Hollatz, proprietress of this historically significant 1899 Victorian-home-turned-tearoom in Hutchinson, Minnesota. However, a child’s tea set from her grandmother was the spark that started Audrey’s love affair with tea, and she draws inspiration from the memory. She is eager to pass this “heirloom” to her own daughters and grandchildren.
One seed for the idea of an heirloom-themed tearoom was planted years ago when Audrey was asked to host a mother-daughter afternoon-tea event at her church. Its purpose was to honor mothers by bringing many different generations of women together in one room to share stories and memories, reminisce over old photographs, and enjoy the bonding ritual of afternoon tea. That memorable afternoon enchanted Audrey, and she dreamed of a day when she could share similar experiences in a tearoom or her own.
In 2008, Audrey’s dream came true when she opened Heirlooms Tearoom. She left her 25-year career as an interior designer and hasn’t looked back.
“Our desire is to provide a unique place of beauty and serenity to celebrate the special moments in life,” says Audrey. Heirlooms is that place. It’s a lovely venue for birthdays, showers, Red Hat gatherings, women’s ministries, book clubs, girlfriend getaways, rehearsal dinners, intimate weddings, and holiday parties.
The tearoom is a family affair in many ways. Audrey’s father helps with the business side of things and serves as the tearoom butler at several occasions throughout the year. Her mother helped with the dress-up costumes, her daughter-in-law Katie is her right-hand assistant, and Audrey’s husband, Tim, is the official groundskeeper and gardener.
The L.A. Ritter House, which holds the tearoom, was first owned by pioneer businessman Ludwig Ritter, a hardware-implement merchant in the town for almost 50 years. It has gone through many changes throughout its history—from family home to boarding house to run-down duplex. In 1989, it was converted to a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant, and the home was lovingly restored to its former glory. The next owners made extensive improvements to the grounds and gardens and also built a charming gazebo. Audrey and her husband purchased the beautifully completed property in 2008.
Heirlooms Tea Room is a by-reservation-only venue, offering private events for eight or more guests, as well as a monthly CommuniTea for which smaller groups may reserve a private table. The CommuniTea is an elaborate, themed, three-course afternoon affair served in formal British style. Past themes have included Irish Blessings, April in Paris, Red White & Blueberry, Mother’s Day, and Victorian Christmas.
Audrey also offers children’s tea parties featuring a visit to the dress-up parlor, where ruffled vintage gowns, fancy costume jewelry, shawls, lace gloves, and purses await. Here, little ladies choose the finery they will wear to an elegant tea party complete with china and fine linens, a brief etiquette lesson, and old-fashioned party games. Many young guests say their visit to Heirlooms was their best birthday celebration ever. Their mothers agree—they enjoy their own tea party at an adjacent table, happily leaving the cleanup to the tearoom staff.
Heirlooms offers a variety of menu options served on three-tiered stands and presented on fine china and linens. Prices range from $12 for a cream tea or a desserts tea to $30 for a full three-course dinner. Traditional afternoon tea, featuring an assortment of three finger sandwiches, classic cream scones with Devonshire cream and preserves, three petite sweets, and three pots of tea, is available for $20. Because all food is homemade in-house, Heirlooms can accommodate special dietary needs and can provide alternative menu selections for vegetarians and gluten-free individuals, as well as offerings for those with celiac disease, diverticulitis, and allergies.
Heirlooms serves only loose artisan teas from SerendipiTea and An Afternoon to Remember. These wonderful teas are available for purchase so guests may enjoy them at home as well and remember with each sip the special moments spent having afternoon tea at this enchanting tearoom.
The tearoom is located in the L.A. Ritter House at 325 Hassan Street SE, Hutchinson, Minnesota, and is open Monday through Saturday. Hours are flexible; however, 48 hours’ advance notice is required to arrange a tea party. For reservations or more information, call 320-587-3975, or go to HeirloomsTea.com.