[I wrote this for school. The regulars are the people that help the staff not kill the other people.]
Alice’s Tea Cup is the best tea-based restaurant in New York City. The first restaurant opened ten years ago on the Upper West Side. Now, there are two more successful locations on the east side and, most recently, a pop-up café on the border of Chelsea and Flat Iron. Maybe I’m biased. I’ve worked at all the restaurants at one time or another for well over a year now. Currently, I am the barista, or neighborhood tea expert, if you will, at Chapter 2 on the corner of 64th Street and Lexington Avenue. It is whimsical, charming and plays homage to Alice in Wonderland in every nook and cranny. We even have fairy dust for the little - and sometimes not so little – children. There’s a huge mix of customers, and all different at each location. There are the tourists (who don’t always know how to tip correctly), the New Yorker who is surprised they have never found this place before and then there is the regular. The regulars make every employee’s day: they aren’t demanding, they already know what to expect from us as a brand, and they know how to take care of us. These are three different kinds of regulars who come to Alice’s as often as they are able to.
The college student.
Tomasz Wasik is taller than the average customer that enters the Alice’s Tea Cup door. Standing at six feet-one inch, Tomasz can be seen sipping tea, eating scones, drawing and writing in his sketchbook or with his nose buried in his biology books. In a five-minute conversation, he will go through five different accents – American, Irish, English, Polish – and you’ll never really know which one actually belongs.
Tomasz, 18, was raised on tea. His parents, both raised in Poland, drink tea so he drinks tea. He recalled drinking peppermint whenever he had a tummy ache and Earl Grey blended with a Polish fruit syrup even from as early as 3 years old. Now, Tomasz comes in and orders a range of teas from his own personal mixes, such as Old Wise Man consisting of Bai Hao Oolong, Chamomile and Silver Need Jasmine, to what he refers to as “Bitch Slap” teas, like Numalighar and Sessa, that will “bitch slap” him awake.
He comes in four to five times a week, occasionally a couple of times a day, before, in between and after his classes at Macualay-Hunters College where he is studying pre-med. The combination of the music, atmosphere, employees and tea and scones makes Alice’s Tea Cup the perfect location to study at, according to Tomasz. Well, with exception to the corner table upstairs by the window, which he calls the Philosopher’s Table in that he can only get inspired to write – illegibly; he’s going to make a perfect doctor – and draw things related to tea in his brown Moleskin notebook.
The difference between Alice’s Tea Cup and every other restaurant or café or what-have-you is the way that Tomasz has connected to the staff. In the very beginning, he ordered a second pot of tea and one of the servers, Hayley, either forgot to put it on the bill or purposefully left it off. Either way, Tomasz wrote the extra pot into the tab and left the appropriate amount of money with a second pot added. The next time he came in, Hayley gave him a pumpkin scone in a little pink bag on the house. That’s when he started befriending every waiter, barista, host and even manager in the establishment.
Tomasz writes little notes, sometimes accompanied by drawings, on the back of the receipts to the servers, especially if they seem like they’re having a bad day. “They write thank you so I’m going to write something back,” Tomasz said. “Now it’s become a tradition almost.”
In an hour conversation, Tomasz can go from crazy people on the Subway and in New York City to his road trip with his dad on the West Coast to his love for hiking. He knows he has old man tendencies, like drinking tea, yet he embraces it. “I act like an old fart,” Tomasz said. “I even like being an old fart.”
The business woman.
Brenda Bergen is petite with an extra dose of tiny yet she comes in every morning right at the opening at 8 a.m. She orders two scones, a pumpkin and a scone of the day, with a side of butter. She consumes the top of off the pumpkin scone that is covered in caramel glaze and most of the other. She drinks an entire large pot of decaf English Breakfast with nothing added. Some days she even orders a side of the Lapsang Souchong chicken with Tabasco. She’s in and then out before 8:30 a.m.
Brenda, who is in her mid-50s, drives into the city from Clifton, New Jersey four times a week and arrives by 7 a.m. She goes into the office, where she is a doctor at her medical spa just around the corner, to do paperwork and go on the computer and clean around the office. She goes into Alice’s Tea Cup and she goes back. It is just part of her daily routine.
Growing up, Brenda remembers drinking the tea that her mom or grandmother made for her every so often, but especially when she was sick. They didn’t put it in an ordinary teacup or mug, though. The women served the tea in a bowl, that way it could cool down faster. Now, Brenda likes her tea steaming hot. “I love things steaming hot, and I just love the flavor,” Brenda said.
Brenda has been coming to Alice’s Tea Cup for years. She recalls, what she seems to think were, the better days. There was a former scone baker, Oliver, who would bake savory scones such as Bleu cheese and Paremsan pepper. “All the scones are either chocolate, which I can’t eat, or banana, which I hate,” Brenda said. “So the choices have dwindled down on a daily selection.”
It’s the servers that are her favorite part of the restaurant. Staff members will come and go in the service industry but Brenda gets to know people on a personal level. “She’s definitely someone who knows what she wants, but she also values community and treats the people around her with care,” said Alyssa Lott, a former server from Alice’s Tea Cup.
Even after they’re gone, she will stay in contact with them, and Brenda can appreciate that kind of service. “It’s just a cozy, nice place,” Brenda said. “Everybody knows me.”
The commuting couple.
Bill and Patricia Merrow walk in and the servers’ attitudes go from pissed off to praising Jesus. The table that is usually set for three is now set for two, as it is every weekend when they are able to snag a spot.
Bill and Patricia fell in love with all things England before they fell in love with each other. Bill was raised as an army brat and spent the ages of 6 to 12 living in the United Kingdom. “Sometime in there I got used to tea,” Bill said. Patricia grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and her mom would drag her to the neighbors’ houses almost every afternoon. While the adults would have coffee, she was given a little spot of tea. She now drinks three pots of it a day.
Bill, 62, spent a total of six months in England for his job as “head geek” at CA Technologies with Patricia, 59, visiting often. After already having a passion for tea, they learned the proper English way to prepare and drink the leaves. Now, every place they visit, they are continually disappointed with the quality of the brew. That is, until they stumbled upon Alice’s Tea Cup. “We kind of go through life looking for tea rooms and the universe, being the wonderful thing it is, finds them for me and then I gain another ten pounds,” Patricia said.
Bill and Patricia now come into the city every Saturday and Sunday, driving the hour and 15 minutes commute from Port Jefferson. They take long walks, with goals of eight to 10 miles every day, as Bill keeps track on his blue pedometer, with an extra one just in case that breaks. They never had children so the Merrow’s made a New York City bucket list because they got “extremely bored listening to the crickets and such,” Patricia said. After their long walks and site seeing, they stop in for a spot of tea and the order is always the same. The server brings out vanilla gelato with extra whipped cream and sprinkles, one or two of the scones of the day and two serving plates. They drink a decaf English Breakfast (the servers usually upgrading it to a large with no extra cost), adding milk and their own cinnamon that Bill whips out in a plastic Ziplock bag from his backpack.
“I think that’s why they said, talk to those people, they’re so strange. Seriously,” Patricia said.
“We like tea with heavy cream,” Bill added.
“Properly, you’re only supposed to have it will milk,” Patricia responded to Bill.
“I know that, but I’m not proper,” Bill laughed as he sprinkled in the cinnamon and passed it over to his wife.
The two split everything on the table, Bill ensuring that Patricia drank the last of the tea.
Even in times of uncertainty in the restaurant, it is the regulars who are the ones who are dedicated to Alice’s Tea Cup and stay true to us. They don’t tell us what we’re doing wrong or lower the tip because of an accidental mistake. These people are who we can count on to make it through a busy, often overwhelming, day.