Meet Nicky Perry, proprietress of New York City’s Tea & Sympathy tearoom and Carry On Tea & Sympathy catering. Destination Tea has visited dozens of tearooms in the U.S. and abroad, and can safely say you won’t find another tearoom owner like Perry. A London expat who opened Tea & Sympathy in Greenwich Village 29 years ago, Perry has personality to spare. When asked for an interview, she quipped, “strike while the teapot’s hot” and then told it like it is with pithy replies.
Speaking plainly about the challenges of running a local business in Manhattan, Perry is also humble about her tearoom’s following. She does not namedrop the long list of pop stars, Oscar winners, fashion icons, literati and royalty her tearoom has hosted over nearly three decades. (A quick online search turns up guests Alan Rickman, Adele, Kate Moss and the Dalai Lama, to name a few).
Perry: When I first moved to Manhattan, I met Kate Pierson [of the B52’s] and one night I was out to dinner with her and she said, “You can’t get a good cup of tea around here.” That got me thinking — for ten years — and then on December 23, 1990 at 6 p.m., I decided to open the tearoom. That’s when I knew it, that’s why I had come here [to New York]: I belonged here. Same thing with our location, I just knew. I looked in the window and thought it would be a sweet tea shop. At the time, I was working in a restaurant and the veggie man came in talking about this place, and six weeks later, I was in.
Destination Tea: How did the dream of running a tearoom differ from the reality?
Perry: It was much more successful than I thought it would be. Much busier. I thought it was going to be a sweet little tearoom and didn’t know it would draw an international clientele. In 1994, we expanded into the store next door to add catering and delivery services.
Destination Tea: To what do you attribute your longevity in the business?
Perry: 29 years, nearly. [Big sigh]. A really good product and kindness from all the people that work here, not just me. Building relationships with the community. I’m a big community person. I look after my neighbors. Very good food, all homemade. I care about my guys and they care about me, so they care about my customers. It’s all in a big circle.
Destination Tea: Over time, what adjustments have you made in your business that increased your profitability?
Perry: The rent is so high in the West Village, there is no profit in any of this. We are fighting right now, like everyone else in Manhattan.
Destination Tea: How/Why did you select your current tea provider(s)?
Perry: When I started, it was tiny and I couldn’t find a decent tea. There was a tea shop on 10th and I started there, the tea was so good. As I grew and I could afford to buy wholesale, I asked after their suppliers, and began buying directly from SerendipiTea and Mark T. Wendell, who now makes a private blend for Tea & Sympathy.
Destination Tea: If your friend wanted to open a tearoom, and you were to say to her, “Learn from my mistakes…,” what advice would you give?
Perry: Be very careful about all your permits for everything. Do not negotiate a lease without a lawyer. Avoid paying real estate taxes if you lease. It’s better to buy than lease. You also have to have experience in the restaurant business. Do you swim on the Olympic team without training? It’s the same with running a restaurant. People think it’s glamorous running a tearoom and then they find it’s really hard. Don’t lose any sleep over rude customers or scathing online reviewers.
Read Part 1 of “How An American Tearoom Thrives”: https://worldteanews.com/tea-business-resources/how-an-american-tearoom-thrives.