Anneka Kindler, proprietor of the 10-year-old Twilight Tea Lounge in Brattleboro, Vermont, keeps things simple.
She credits her small town location as one of the keys to the shop’s success. “I just don’t have a lot of competition,” says Kindler.
Patrons enter the tea lounge at 41 Main Street directly from a knitting store upstairs, or by a short walk down Arch Street to the tea shop’s main entrance.
The vibe inside is relaxed, and very much like what you’d find sitting in the kitchen or living room of a good friend. Because she’s open in the afternoon and evening, Twilight Tea Lounge offers a place to go in a “town that doesn’t have a lot of non-bar hangouts.” Her 15-20 customers each weekday come to study, make use of the WiFi connection that is free with purchase, or to talk with companions, perhaps while their children play a game.
The tea lounge was originally a cooperative business owned by five local women. It moved to its current location under the Knit or Dye in 2009. Kindler estimates 80-90 percent of her customers are local, but she does draw tourists during October and November. Afternoons between 4 and 6 p.m. are the busiest and on weekends the shop draws 30-40 customers per day. Fall and winter bring more traffic than the rest of the year.
The workhorse of her equipment is a Cecilware ten gallon water heater that came with the business when she bought it in 2004. She moved to this location in the summer of 2009. She makes chai on a two-burner hotplate and has a small GE Monogram dishwasher in the 880 square foot shop. With space at a premium, she keeps the preparation area as compact as possible.
“People feel at home and relaxed,” she said, highlighting the couches, tables covered in cheerful printed cloths, and the cozy, eclectic decor. With seating for about 20 in two different rooms, options for patrons include sitting on a cushy upholstered chair or sofa or gathering around a table for two, four or six to chat or play one of the store’s board games — Scrabble is popular. She serves those attending knitting classes, calling the knitters and tea drinkers natural allies. She has found that live music or other formal entertainment just doesn’t work well in the space, although there is a monthly participatory song circle which has regular attendees. Twilight Tea Lounge also participates in gallery walks the town offers and showcases work from up and coming artists for those walks. Those nights can be especially busy, she said.
As a sole proprietor and the only employee of the business, she keeps the baked goods selection self-serve, with an enticing display on the front counter. All the pastries — scones ($3.75), cookies ($2.25-$2.75), cupcakes ($3.75) and brownies ($3.25) — are vegan and many are gluten free as well. With more than 100 teas on the menu, plus the opportunity for customers to create their own blends from the selection of teas and single herbs, there’s something for every taste.
Tea prices range from $3 for a small two-cup pot to $9.75 for a large six-cup pot, and vary by tea variety. Over half the teas on the menu are organic; the menu also indicates which are fairly traded and which are produced locally. In addition, she sells loose teas and herbs in bulk, and a small selection of teaware. Average ticket runs about $7.
Tea lovers and those who want gluten-free goodies will seek out shops that will cater to them, she’s found, just one of secrets of success for the Twilight Tea Lounge.