Accent on Literature

English tea room reflects its owners’ love of books (pollinators, too)

ANGLOPHILES IN THE FAMILY
Victoria Cummins, left, and her mom Lesley Shipley.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

The Book & Bee Cafe and Tea, an English-style tea room with books, is a family enterprise backed by Lesley Shipley and her daughter Victoria Cummins. Here, they share the story behind their literary-minded establishment, inspired by their trips to the UK, where they “fell in love with the culture of slowing down in the afternoon to enjoy a cup of tea,” says Victoria.

How did you unite the concepts of books and bees?

Victoria: Our family has had a travel company for years, and Mom and I had often dreamed of starting a B&B or a restaurant. This pandemic brought travel to a halt and we had this building just sitting here. So, we blended our loves of books and bees and English culture. … We just love pollinators. We use local honey in our food, and sell it in our small gift area.

Lesley:  Especially now, during this pandemic, people need to slow down and take care of themselves. We have outside seating and four inside rooms, each with its own theme: the garden room, the Stratford room, the Jubilee Room celebrating Queen Elizabeth, and a room reflecting C.S. Lewis’ favorite pub. We spent six months creating these rooms, doing the wallpapering, shopping for tables and chairs and china and teapots. We wanted each space to be unique and pleasing to the eye. And we must have done a good job, because I’ve heard people say, “I love it. I want to live here.”

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Your menu appeals to literature lovers: Poe’s Panini, Steinbeck’s Chicken Salad, Shakespeare’s Quiche, Agatha’s Meatloaf and Mash. How did you develop the concept?

Lesley: We serve dishes that we like. Sandwiches. Soups and salads. Specials like “The Hobbit’s Shepherds Pie.”

Victoria: I named the dishes to connect the food with authors or characters in their books. Mom does the cooking and the baking. I brew the tea.

What about the book connection? 

Victoria: Mom and Dad read to my sister and me when we were small. And we fell in love with books and authors. So we’ve filled the rooms with literary connections  … books for people to read while they’re here. We want our customers to be transported to another time or place.

Photo by Rachel Pressley

Starting a restaurant, especially during a pandemic, is quite an undertaking. How is it going?

Lesley: We were cautioned not to open until summer, but we thought we’d just do a very slow opening on Valentine’s Day. Just an afternoon tea to get a feel for how we’d be received.  

Victoria:  There was nothing slow about that opening. We were packed full [on] Valentine’s Day and the day following. And we’ve been busy ever since.

Lesley:  We had no idea it would blossom like it has.

What’s your goal? 

Victoria: To provide a restful, comforting experience. We want this place to feel like a big hug.

Book & Bee Café and Tea, 795 Mountain Road, open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, 11am-3pm. Reservations are required for formal Afternoon Tea (including three tiers of finger sandwiches, scones with jam, pastries, and clotted cream). For more information, call 828-845-4242 or go to thebookandbee.com. Also on Facebook: The Book & Bee Café and Tea.

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