By Stephenie Overman
What started as a small treat for antique shop customers has become the mainstay of Crest Hill Antiques & Tea Room in The Plains, Va.
Salvatrice “Sally” DeLuca originally opened an antiques shop in early 2007 and “started offering tea and cookies some months later as an afterthought.”
Although the antique shop got off to a good start, it was hard hit by the recession the following year, she said. “Meanwhile, we had added tea sandwiches, scones and other pastries, all locally baked, plus other menu items that you’d find in a typical English tea room, and it began to take off.”
The tea room grew into the primary business and four years ago DeLuca moved to a building with more space for tables and kitchen. She estimates that the tea room accounts for 60% to 75% of the shop’s revenues each year.
“I have to say that the tea room saved us. If we hadn’t had that going on during the recession, we would have closed shop years ago,” she said.
Once DeLuca fully embraced the tea room idea she started stocking lots of tea-related merchandise in the shop: vintage teapots, teacups, serving ware and tea towels. She also added tea cozies made by a local seamstress and strainers, caddies, and books about tea.
Crest Hill partnered with a local tea blender, Marsha Richards of Tea For All Reasons in Winchester, Va., who created two house specialties: Crest Hill Blend and Sally’s Blend.
The shop now offers about two dozen varieties in the tea room and packaged tea for sale. Among the most popular, according to DeLuca, is a mild roasted almond green tea and a mother of pearl green tea that’s “fruity, but not overwhelming.” In the fall and winter customers are more inclined to try the pumpkin pie and apple blends.
Traditional afternoon tea with sandwiches and scone is $16, while “The Full Monty,” which also includes fruit, cake and cookies, is $20. Crest Hill also serves soups, salads, sandwiches, fruit plates and a ploughman’s lunch.
The scones are a big hit, DeLuca says, “People really love them, and with good reason: they’re light, moist and flaky and taste amazing.” She credits the “fantastic palate” of a local baker who “loves to come up with new variations, like apricot and cream cheese, or chocolate chip with toasted coconut. She’s also done some savory scones, like potato & spinach, or roasted grape with rosemary and tarragon, which we serve with our soups.”
Crest Hill celebrates seasonal events with special meals and tea blends. A Downton Abbey tea is held each January when the television program returns to the air in the United States.
DeLuca calls herself a die-hard Anglophile who visits England regularly to buy antiques for the shop and check out tea rooms for new ideas.
“When I was there last year, I kept thinking about some of our regular customers: ‘She’d love this place, he would really like this….’ The clincher was when I saw that Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey is filmed) had opened its very small window for advance-ticket sales. I picked a date in September, bought a dozen tickets, and then built the rest of the itinerary around it. It filled up pretty quickly.”
The Sept. 7-14 Antique Treasures & Tea-Time Tour to England will be about equal parts sightseeing, antiques-shopping, tea-room-hopping, and free time in the Cotswolds and London.
Although it has been announced that the Downton Abbey television program will end its run after this season, plans for making the tour an annual event are going strong.
So is the emphasis on tea at Crest Hill Antiques & Tea Room.
“What started off as an afterthought has become our principal business,” says DeLuca. “I used to say that we are an antiques shop that had a tea room on the side; now I say that we are a tea room that has some antiques on the side.”
Crest Hill Antiques & Tea Room
4303 Fauquier Avenue
The Plains, Virginia 20198