Taking Tea in Richmond

Taking Tea in Richmond
Photograph courtesy of Simply Tea.

Simply Tea
21 West Main Street • Richmond, Virginia 23220
804-215-4512 • simplytearichmond.net

With a little more than a year since Simply Tea opened in downtown Richmond, owner Tara Gardner has endured more than one obstacle and tribulation. But if you talk to the Richmond native, her enthusiasm and passion for her tearoom are evident. The ritual for teatime was instilled in her from a young age, when her mom would insist on the family partaking in afternoon tea as a form of quiet time. This tradition remained with her into adulthood, and when she happened upon a vacant corner storefront in downtown Richmond, she was inspired with the idea of opening a restaurant that would share that pastime with others.

“I love old-world Richmond, it’s just my favorite,” Tara remarks. “Walking around one day, I saw this gorgeous space that was for lease, and it had these beautiful rounded windows with a beautiful view of Richmond landmarks. I just thought, ‘What a wonderful place that would be to have a tea house!’ It just evolved from there.”

Taking Tea in Richmond

Once Tara decided to open her own tearoom, her husband, John, a contractor, used his skills and professional expertise to renovate the space. Together, the two created the open-concept kitchen Tara envisioned, which allows her to converse with her guests while she prepares the fare each day. He transformed the small space into the cozy and intimate tearoom of his wife’s dreams. When John died in May 2020—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic— Tara ensured her husband’s hard work wouldn’t go unappreciated.

“He made it come to life,” Tara says. “It’s kind of his legacy as much as mine.”

While Tara works in the kitchen preparing all the food for each day’s afternoon tea, her 13-year-old daughter, Jill, helps around the restaurant by putting up décor for each month’s seasonal or holiday theme. But the tearoom’s adornments aren’t the only aspect that change throughout the year. Each month, Tara recreates her menu, offering her patrons fare inspired by the season and major holidays. High Tea, which costs $30 per person, includes a freshly baked scone, six different tea sandwiches served on a tiered tray, and a dessert. Each tea service comes with specialty tea pairings using blends and brews from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas. According to Tara, she can alter items on her menu to accommodate those with dietary restrictions.

Simply Tea had only been open for three months when the COVID-19 pandemic caused city and nationwide shutdowns, but that didn’t prevent Tara from providing teatime to the people in her community. She started offering party platters and afternoon-tea boxes for curbside pickup.

“Teatime is more about the experience,” Tara notes, “so I tried to figure out a way to give that to people to enjoy in their home. It sustained us when we were completely closed [for indoor dining].”

Now that the restaurant has returned to its original in-house dining format, Tara has implemented some changes for her guests’ safety, such as staggered teatimes and spaced-out tables, but she is glad she can once again interact with her patrons in-person.

“I invite people to hang around the kitchen with me while I’m preparing stuff and have genuine conversations about anything and everything,” Tara states. “I wanted the tearoom to have a touch elegance and class, but I also wanted it to have that homey feeling like you are coming to Mom’s for tea.”

Simply Tea is open Friday through Sunday, with seatings for teatime available at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

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