While on holiday to England and Scotland during the early 1990s, Vicki Schrock fell in love with the English tea room. "I loved the quaintness of them," she said. "It was like going to a friend's house. Not all the tablecloths were the same. It was very informal and I really like that." Back in the States, she dreamed about opening a tea room. When a small restaurant tucked behind the Coffee Mill in Largo went up for sale three years ago, Schrock looked it over and decided it was a perfect fit. She and her husband, Chris Ries, bought the business.
Vicki's Back O' the Mill Tea Room is a bit of the old country. Like its English counterpart, all the tablecloths are different and cream tea and afternoon tea are specialties. The daily menu offers brunch from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and luncheon salads, sandwiches and desserts until 3 p.m.
"My mother-in-law, whose parents were born in Scotland, helped me understand the tradition and ritual of the English tea," Schrock said.
Before opening the restaurant, she researched things such as recipes and tableware.
Schrock, who is an accountant, handles the bookkeeping, does the baking and oversees the formal teas, showers and parties.
Ries, who had worked a decade in the restaurant business in his youth, took over as the restaurant's cook.
"I didn't realize how much I liked it until I got back into it," he said. "I really enjoy working with the staff and interacting with customers. I'm the cook and I wash the dishes and mop the floor."
The Kenneth City couple plan to expand the business with tea-related gifts and accessories before the Christmas holiday and are looking in the Pinellas Park vicinity to open a second tea room.
What is served with cream tea and afternoon tea?
For $6.95, cream tea includes a pot of tea, scones, clotted cream, jam and lemon curd. Afternoon tea at $12.95 features a pot of tea, scones, clotted cream, jam, lemon curd and assorted tea sandwiches. For these more formal events, Ries said, reservations are required and customers dine in the restaurant's small private room on tables with white tablecloths and napkins. There also is a tea for two on the daily menu, and reservations are not required.
What are some of the customer favorites?
Ries checked four items on the menu.
• Spinach pie for $6.50, made with fresh spinach, onions, Swiss cheese, topped with clover sprouts and served with fruit and tea bread.
• Omelet in a crust for $6.95 made with fresh eggs, honey ham, tomatoes, onions, apples, Swiss cheese and served with fruit.
• Apple walnut chicken salad for $6.75 (the restaurant's signature chicken salad) and served on wheat berry bread.
• Tropical chicken salad for $7.50, made with greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, walnuts, fresh fruit and chicken salad and served with tea bread.
How is the business doing in this economic recession?
"This is the time of year that we're really slow," Schrock said. "But it's been surprisingly busy. Overall, we're doing what we did this time last year. We're holding steady."