Carmel business owner serves up tastes from her homeland
By Mark Ambrogi
Tina Jesson recalls when she first thought of having her own tea room.
“When I was about 20, I went to a really lovely tea room in Yorkshire,” the Great Britain native said. “I thought I’d really like to own something like this one day, maybe before I’m 50 run a tea room like this before I retire.”
The 48-year-old Jesson made it with room a little to spare. Tina’s Traditional Old English Kitchen opened officially on Oct. 1 at 30 N. Range Line Rd., inside the same building as the Simply Sweet Shoppe. The tea room, whose motto is “A Slice of Britain on a Plate,” had been open for few days prior to the official opening so customers could get a peek during the Carmel’s International Arts Festival on Sept. 27-28.
Jesson moved to the United States from the Derbyshire region of England in 2008 with her husband David, a Rolls-Royce Aero Engines employee. Her husband has worked for Rolls-Royce for 25 years.
“He came home and said ‘Tina I found the perfect job. The problem is it’s in America,’” she said.
The toughest thing for Tina was leaving their two grown children in England. The second-toughest was she longed for some of her favorite foods. That, she said, she could change herself.
“I always enjoyed cooking and baking for the family,” Jesson said. “Then in 2011, I started baking scones and things we can’t get [in the United States]that well and started selling them at farmers markets in the area. By my second year, I was catering tea parties.”
For several months, she set up a tea service in a Danville restaurant during the afternoon.
“But I was dying to get my hands on my own space,” Jesson said. “This became available and we have this lovely building.”
Carmel resident Leslie Hoggatt, individual gifts officer for The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, said the tea room is a nice addition to the Carmel Arts & Design District. Hoggatt said she first met Jesson when she gave a talk on the healthy benefits of tea at the center. The talk was held in the conjunction with the BBC Orchestra visit in February 2013.
“Since then I’ve gone to some of her afternoon teas she used to host at the SoHo Cafe,” Hoggatt said. “The food is always homemade. Her teas are really good, too. I’m very excited she opened up here. I have a feeling I’m going to bring lots of our donors and ladies here for teas and lunches. I think it will be good for the area. I’m a huge Anglophile. I love anything British.”
Andrew Lannerd, general manager for Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, is also a big fan. Lannerd, an Indiana native who has lived in London, met Jesson at one of her tea services.
“I have a very big passion for England,” said Lannerd, who lives in Indianapolis.
So naturally he plans to make the trip to Carmel quite often.
“It’s very nice to have her in my own backyard,” Lannerd said. “This is perfect. Being in Carmel and in the Arts District is a place where people will appreciate afternoon tea.”
Lannerd, who collects memorabilia on the Royal Family, and Jesson headed a tour to England to visit country homes and tea rooms this past summer.
Jesson and her husband moved to Carmel when they moved to the United States in 2008. After a nasty ice storm that first winter, they decided to move closer to her husband’s job and currently live in Brownsburg. She said they might move closer to Carmel now that the tea room has opened.
Carmel is the perfect fit for the tea room, Jesson said.
“There are a lot of British people here and there are people here that are perhaps a little more sophisticated,” Jesson said. “They know about hot tea and perhaps have traveled to England. They’ve traveled a lot more.”
Jesson has more than 1,000 people on her newsletter list that goes out about every month and more than 600 likes on Facebook.
“Now it’s just trying to get known in the Carmel area a little more,” she said. “We are taking bookings and have dates set all the way to April of next year.”
Often her customers have been Great Britain natives or those who have had relatives from there.
“We have people looking for the things they miss when you are taken out of your home environment,” Jesson said. “Food, friends and family is what we try to do.”
The tea room has seven employees, including three full-time. There are two other British workers, including her assistant manager, Claire Hollenbaugh.
“If people come in and ask for tea, I’m probably going to be here,” Jesson said.
If not, Hollenbaugh likely will be.
“So you’ll get to hear a British accent and obviously taste some really good British food,” Jesson said.
Tina’s Traditional Old English Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., every day except for Monday.
There are 10 types of tea on the menu, split between caffeinated teas and herbal teas. There are a few guest teas available so there are approximately 15 teas at one time.
“We don’t want to make it too overwhelming for people,” Tina Jesson said of tea choices. “But at the same time we like to give people a variety depending on the time of the year. If they are suffering from a cold, we find there is a good tea for that. There are health benefits from tea and we can educate people on that as well.”
There is seating for 34 guests, including a table for 12. Reservations are recommended but not always required.
There is a Mary Poppins tea service for younger guests.
For more information, call 565-9716 or visit tinastraditional.com.