NEW PORT RICHEY — For most of his life, Peter Bonnar was used to working with a hammer and drill rather than serving pots of Earl Grey to ladies in red hats.
But when he and his wife moved to Holiday from Boston a few years ago, Bonnar, a former general contractor who learned to cook from his Scottish grandmother, traded in his toolbox to sell British groceries and run a tea room.
On Wednesday, Bonnar re-opened his popular establishment — Piper's British Corner at 5421 Main St. — in a cozy strip-mall storefront featuring the flags of Scotland, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Wales waving in front.
Bonnar had originally opened in 2005 in another storefront a few blocks away, but decided two months ago to move because he needed more space.
And some heartier food and drink.
Now patrons at the multipurpose cafe, tea room, and beer and wine bar can order from a full British/American menu that includes Bonner's homemade fish and chips (from haddock and cod), shepherd's pie, Irish stew, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
They can order pints of Guinness or Bass ale on tap and on weekends watch live soccer from England on a big screen TV.
For those who like good old-fashioned USA-inspired fare, there's a full menu of bar food, featuring Buffalo wings and hamburgers.
"I wanted to create a place that felt like home," says Bonnar, who grew up in the crowded tenements overlooking the shipbuilding yards in Green Oak, a town on Scotland's west coast.
He still offers pots of good black British tea and his world-class homemade scones (he makes them from his wife's Irish grandmother's recipe). A tiny, thoughtfully stocked grocery store in the front features Devon cream, cottage pie, cans of mashed peas and bottles of the beloved British HP Sauce: "You'll find that in every household in England as well as in the house of Parliament," he said with a laugh. He's stocked the grocery freezer with steak and kidney pies, English bacon, Irish sausage and traditional pasties — pastry filled with meat, potatoes and cabbage.
Flavors of home
Bonnar moved to the new location because he couldn't grow his business in the old one; a lease provision allowed for only one restaurant and there was already a pizzeria next door.
When Bonnar closed the doors in July, he began working to upgrade the new place. Now, maps of the British Isles, a life-size image of a jolly red British phone booth and other Brit-themed artwork adorn the walls.
The tables are set with teapots and plate caddies for the menu of midafternoon tea pastries and sandwiches that include cucumber mint and chicken salad with grapes, almonds and cinnamon.
"His scones are the best," said employee Stephen Sobat, who visited the old Piper's every other day for the popular treats. Sobat, who wore a kilt while he helped Bonnar ready the restaurant for the grand opening, said that he first started coming to Piper's "for the culture."
Customers come from Dunedin, home to a large Scottish population, as well as from all over Pasco County. Local groups like the Daughters of the British Empire, the Scottish American Club and the Daughters of Scotia also find their way to Piper's for a little taste of home.
"And, of course, we have the Red Hat ladies booked for tea next week," Bonnar said,
Market is strong
Hazel and Cecil Forester, who moved to the United States from Ireland in 1957 and now live in Holiday, stopped by Tuesday to wish Bonnar well.
"We've been stopping in and pestering him for weeks to see when he's going to open," joked Hazel, who said she looked forward to tea, scones, fish and chips, and bangers and mash (sausage and potatoes).
A few weeks ago when she ran out of tea, she stopped in to buy Scottish blend and Typhoo.
The Foresters typify the kind of customers Piper's attracts, said Bonnar, who first got the idea of opening a British grocery when he noticed Anne's British Corner had closed in New Port Richey.
"I thought: 'That's nice, I could do that,' " he recalls. "It was just a very, very small grocery run by an older woman. She had a table for tea set up in the corner. She had also been in business for years, so I knew there was a market here."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.