CARROLLWOOD — Amid the traffic, the noise and the many eating and drinking establishments along Dale Mabry Highway, Kim Nauman hopes to offer a little sanctuary for those who seek a quiet teatime with friends.
"We're about relationships here," said Nauman, owner of the Empress Tea Room, 12924 N Dale Mabry Highway. "We get a lot of repeat customers, a lot of people who are with us because of that neighbor feel. Often, as they're walking to tables, they'll see some church friends and walk over to say 'hi.' "
The Empress Tea Room opened at its current location in August. Before that, Nauman ran the Tea Room for nearly four years on Fowler Avenue in Temple Terrace. When her lease ran out, Nauman decided it was time to seek out a new place where she could serve teas, soups, salads and scones while helping her customers feel like special ladies.
The decor in the dining room features lace, chandeliers and displays of old tea sets and glassware. Some of it is donated by current and former customers who want to make sure their heirlooms go to a good home, Nauman said.
"We've had people who might be getting up there in years and who are downsizing their lives, and they've given us their tea sets and Depression glass because they don't have room for it anymore," Nauman said, pointing to various displays throughout the tearoom.
Tami Kent, a server and longtime friend of Nauman's, said she loves the relationships that are cultivated between themselves and the customers. The customers become like family to her and Nauman, Kent said, often sharing stories, photographs and scrapbooks of their lives.
"My first week here, I met two women who were just looking for a quiet place to spend time together," Kent said. "One of them had cancer and just had a port installed" for chemotherapy.
Nauman, who calls herself "a totally crazy little Christian girl," said she also leaves "prayer cards" on the tables for the customers. The customers often fill them out with prayer requests, which Nauman and Kent, a minister's wife, add to their own personal prayers.
Margie Doyle of Carrollwood said she was impressed with the tearoom during her first visit in September.
"I've heard a lot about the place from friends and acquaintances," said Doyle, who was having tea there on a recent afternoon. "I wasn't expecting anything this grand."
Her companion, Doreen Ross of New Tampa, discovered the Empress Tea Room when the business was in Temple Terrace. Both of Ross' daughters, Camille Salimbene and Gabrielle Kerr, had their bridal showers there.
Ross said she has always enjoyed the tearoom, and she's impressed with the new location.
"It's like night and day," Ross said. "It's so bright and cheerful and peaceful here."
The Empress Tea Room is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and closed Mondays. Evening events can be scheduled by reservation. For more information, call (813) 988-9027 or visit empresst.com.
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