OLEAN, NY – Amy Sherburne started the year by attaining a long-held dream.
On Jan. 2, Sherburne opened up Union Tea Café and Tea Shop at 301 N. Union St., inspired by cafes she stopped in while traveling.
“When my husband, Bob, and I travel, we see other cafes,” Sherburne said. “There was one in particular from upstate New York with a lot of different teas and coffees to choose from. I had never seen this amount of variety before. I figured there had to be a need in this area for something like this because I’m sure my group of friends weren’t the only ones interested.”
Not only did these cafes motivate Sherburne to create a tea-based business, but she discovered through research that tea consumption has become popular because of its health benefits and that she had the possibility of succeeding.
“It took three years from the time I saw that café and had the spark until I actually opened my shop,” Sherburne said. “I went back to that café twice to assess the tables, what the people were eating and to look at the menu. It took two years of serious planning until we opened.”
Entrepreneurship is not a new concept to Sherburne.
“My grandfather emigrated from Lebanon and has had various businesses in Olean over the years,” Sherburne said. “I work at my grandfather’s store, Eade’s Wallpaper & Fabric, which opened in 1940 and is ironically located right next to the café.”
Sherburne started working there in 1985 when she was 14 and is Eade’s business manager.
Her café and tea shop, located on the first floor of the Olean Business Development headquarters, offers a range of food and tea options for all people to enjoy. Its menu features over 95 varieties of loose teas which guests can order hot or iced.
“We purchase from a blender in California who blends teas based on places he’s been to, for wellness, and for flavor,” Sherburne explained. “I focused on someone who does this as an art and has a company with wonderful blends. I really learned a lot about specific types of teas and it has made it less overwhelming.”
Sherburne helps customers feel confident in their tea choices by offering a sniffing bar, a station that allows guests to see the ingredients in each tea and smell them before ordering.
“I really like how the sniffing bar turned out,” Sherburne said. “I love seeing the reaction of people when they see all of our different teas.”
Customers can make the tea to their liking depending on the kind of tea they order, Sherburne said. Add-in options include lemon, honey, milk and sugar.
The food menu features an array of choices for breakfast and lunch. Some of its most popular items include the breakfast hash brown bake, artichoke dip, a Mediterranean lettuce wrap and gourmet waffles, Sherburne said.
One of the special services she offers is high tea on Sundays, by reservation only, between 1 and 4 p.m. High tea is an English tradition meant to be enjoyed between lunch and dinnertime, Sherburne said. At her café, high tea comes out in courses – an “enormous” amount of food, both sweet and savory.
“First comes potato bake and fresh fruit,” Sherburne said. “The second course is finger sandwiches, which are usually savory. We have smoked salmon with lemon butter, chicken salad on cranberry bread and other unique sandwich combinations. For the third course, we serve scones, cakes and other sweets. We put out a white table cloth to make it feel special for our guests.”
The high tea service costs $28.95 and is for two people, Sherburne said.
Upon walking into the café, customers will instantly notice chandeliers and doors hanging from the ceiling and brick walls. The interior of Union Tea Café gives off a “neglected English feel” for its customers to relax and enjoy their meal, Sherburne said.
“I definitely have a love for interior design,” Sherburne said. “I wanted to give it a comfortable and collective feel for people to come in, whether they are meeting with a friend for tea or getting high tea. My instinct of the whole idea was the brick being exposed. I added over-the-top chandeliers. I always had a cool feeling about bright colored doors because that’s what you see in Europe, and I knew I wanted to incorporate red for London red.”
When Sherburne first opened the café, she introduced an online ordering service that she deems a success.
“Our online ordering is strong,” said Sherburne. “We have had a very smooth transition of placing orders online and having them sent to the kitchen. Customers can set when they would like to pick up their food. I think we are forward thinking with having them pay from their cell phones.”
The café currently employs 11 people of all different ages, Sherburne said.
The reaction to the café has been wonderful, according to Sherburne who said that people constantly come to her praising the décor and the freshness of the menu and its healthy options, and who are always making sure the café is keeping busy.
“There are people of all different ages enjoying the café,” said Sherburne. “Some retired folks meet out for breakfast in the morning, but I see kids as young as eighth grade coming in for tea. I feel that every age group feels comfortable walking it, but I’m shocked, amazed and presently shocked of how many young kids are coming in. I think it’s wonderful.”
As an Olean native, Sherburne grew up seeing the potential of Olean, what it has been and could be, which also inspired her to start the café in her hometown.
“We need new people with new visions to open up shops on Union and we need to revitalize,” Sherburne said. “We are known for certain types of food in the area, but many people still want more choices and to be able to eat fresh and simple. That is one of my driving forces for starting this business.”
Sherburne hopes the café will bring more people into Olean and help the small town expand, especially in the upcoming summer months.
“We have always had a strong presence of people walking up and down Union and I think with improvement, this will become more of a meeting place for people to come together and hang out,” Sherburne said. “I have heard of great businesses opening in the future. Hopefully, there will be more entertainment options to help bring more of a crowd down here.”
In the summer, Union Tea Café plans to extend its hours, to provide outdoor seating and to expand on the live acoustic music offered on Fridays. Down the road, Sherburne said she would like to offer wine and craft beers as well.
Union Tea Café and Tea Shop is open Monday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday by reservation only for high tea from 1 to 4 p.m. The grill closes by 5:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. To learn more about the café, visit www.unionteacafe.com or call 716-701-4014.