By Stephenie Overman
Miss Minerva may not have much of a head for business, but Pat Settle, who owns Miss Minerva’s Tea Room and Gift Shop, knows a thing or two about attracting customers.
A special kids menu delights youngsters.
One of the big attractions is Miss Minerva herself, an almost life-size but not especially life-like doll who usually sits outside the shop greeting visitors on Culpeper, Virginia’s main street.
“Miss Minerva is probably the most photographed ‘person’ in Culpeper,” Settle says. “We always have an extra chair with her. Some people sit and talk with her. She’s the talk of the town.”
Another attraction at the shop is Grandma’s Attic, a room filled with feathery hats, tiaras and necklaces. “It’s such a fun part of the visit. People have their pictures taken or they come back to the table wearing the hats. Our goal is for people to have fun, take time with one another” and create memories.
But perhaps the most critical component to the tea room’s success is the setting – a vibrant downtown that’s an easy day trip from Washington, D.C., and Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia. Culpeper has boutique hotels, bed & breakfasts, restaurants, Civil War history, entertainment and shopping.
And what’s critical to that success, according to Settle, is Culpeper Renaissance Inc., a member of the Virginia Main Street program, which was organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help revitalize downtown commercial districts. “I’ve been involved since 1990 with CRI. It really is an advocate for downtown,” she says.
Summer concerts, car shows, Civil War reenactments and wine tastings all bring visitors to Culpeper and to Miss Minerva’s. Central Virginia is horse country and Settle says a riding group from England “usually stops here and has tea with us” on its annual tour.
Customers visit Grandma’s Attic to find a hat for the day.
Miss Minerva’s is used to attracting a mix of customers, according to Settle. “Some people come by themselves, bringing their computers. We have many showers, red hat groups, senior groups, retirement communities, sororities.”
The shop offers tea caddies customers for sniff from to help them choose from teas with names such as Once Upon a Tea (vanilla, chocolate, essence of mint) Ruby Sipper (blood oranges and pear) and Secret Garden (chamomile, lavender, peppermint and rooibos).
A pot of tea is $5. Add a scone and assorted finger sandwiches, savories and desserts for a full English tea $20. Tea for two is $31. A bowl of soup is $5 and single scones are $2 each. The menu includes children’s items like chicken fingers and there is a low-carb salad tea for the calorie-conscious.
English tea at Miss Minerva’s
Miss Minerva’s loves holidays, marking Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and the Christmas season with special events and types of tea. Birthdays too are special. The honored guest is served from a tea pot shaped like a birthday cake and receives a rose cupcake topped with a candle.
“Young girls who may have started coming for their birthdays when they were three or four now come as teen agers or as grown ups,” she says. “People come back and come back.”
Settle is always on the lookout for tea cups, pots and accessories to sell along with the shop’s wide variety of loose teas. “We go to antique shops. We take some things on consignment. We had one collection from a lady whose mother had traveled all over the world.”
Settle owned two small businesses in Culpeper before working at what was then called Tea, Lace and Roses. “Working for a business is a good way to learn. I learned how to order teas, how to schedule,” she says.
Settle bought the tea room from the original owner who retired in 2008. Two years later she moved the shop to its current location in the heart of Culpeper. The move allowed Settle to design the dining room and kitchen just the way she wanted to make preparation and service most efficient.
Miss Minerva not only made the move to the new location; Settle took the opportunity to rename the tea room for its most famous patron.
Miss Minerva’s Tea Room & Gift Shop
167 East Davis Street
Culpeper, VA 22701