“It’s always tea-time,” said the Hatter with a sigh.”
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.
Sisters Lauren Fox and Haley Fox (left to right in photo above) were raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a short walk from the Alice In Wonderland Statue in Central Park. Their parents, both in the creative arts, encouraged imagination and independence, apparently achieved in spades. They were read to as young girls. The Alice books were a joint favorite. And then there were the teas: wherever the family traveled, and this family traveled, afternoon teas were sampled and enjoyed.
Haley went to NYU Stern for business and Tisch School of the Arts for film, moving to Los Angeles to become a Director of Development at MGM. Lauren moved to LA to pursue an acting career. During the West Coast years, much time was enjoyably spent with their god-daughter Alice. The Lewis Carroll stories had a second life and influence of which they were as yet unaware. Haley and her husband, and then Lauren moved back to the city they love and missed. None had jobs, though by then, Haley’s husband had interest in a club in Canada (the business of hospitality). You can see the pieces coming together.
The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it. “No room! No room!” They cried out when they saw Alice coming. “There’s plenty of room!” said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm chair at one end of the table.
In 1784, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, created the concept of afternoon tea, having felt a ‘sinking’ feeling between lunch and dinner. The ritual caught on.
In 2001, Alice’s Tea Cup, Chapter 1 opened on the Upper West Side, its motto: Afternoon Tea Before and After Noon.
Almost entirely family financed and aided by friends who variously painted, heavy-lifted, and staffed, Haley, Lauren and Haley’s husband (as business consultant) managed everything from bookkeeping to merchandising, from buying to decoration. One Sunday early on, with a server out sick, a baker missing, a broken water heater (necessitating the purchase of an urn requiring hurried refill after refill) and the New York Post arriving to take photographs, an employee, while moving it, dropped the fire extinguisher. Great clouds of white powder were released onto the floor and into the air! “We laughed it off and survived,” Haley recalls. This is why some women are successful at owning their own business and others are not. Haley and Lauren are calm, reasonable, efficient, multi-taskers with a sense of humor—did I mention calm?
The sisters worked with chefs creating breakfast, brunch, lunch and tea menus. Original tea infused edibles were created: chicken smoked in lapsang souchong, crème brulee infused with chai among others. Cakes were developed, both decorated and shaped— Birthdays, Weddings, Baby Showers, etc. (Six weeks notice in the case of something elaborate, please, and yes, they have tastings for these). Katie Holmes’ ordering John Lithgow’s birthday cake to be brought out on stage when they performed together was one of their more notable recent commissions. Private parties were booked. A comprehensive web site was developed: www.alicesteacup.com. Clientele grew by extraordinary word of mouth without advertising or public relations. Chapter 2 opened in 2005. This Alice’s Tea Cup (only this one) has a liquor license and can be booked for a different kind of party. Tea infused martinis were developed. Book parties and Fashion Week events have been held here. Chapter 2 holds 100 people on two floors. Chapter 3 followed in 2006. Alice’s Tea Cup, Chapter 3 has a beautiful, semi-covered patio that can accommodate twenty. The building next door has allowed a lovely evocative mural.
“Twinkle. Twinkle, little bat!/ How I wonder what you’re at!/ Up above the world you fly/Like a tea-tray in the sky./ Twinkle, twinkle-”
Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep “Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle-“and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.
The ladies, with Haley’s husband now Director of Operations, still oversee every aspect of all three establishments, still choose and consign for the teas (140 blends!) still purchase the tea and fairy gifts (Alice’s is the biggest single customer of a woman in Australia who makes fairy regalia), develop recipes, plan events, and manage fulfillment for the web site where everything from pots and tea samplers to a tea-of-the-month-club is offered. All baked goods are made on premises except the sandwich bread. Tea is sold in minimums of two-ounce cello bags—foil and cello covered, with an Alice’s sticker, a grand little gift.
Reservations of eight and up must pre-order so that neither kitchen nor guests are less than well served. The Mad Hatter afternoon tea service for adults is $30 per person, a child’s Wee Tea is $20 per person. Children’s parties can be booked into a shared back room or reserve the entire room hourly. Alice herself (costumed) is available to read and do face painting at $125 an hour as is The Mad Hatter (costumed) who is a magician ($125 an hour). Musicians are also available. Gifts and decorations can be requested. Adult parties can book a palm or tarot card reader at slightly higher fees. They’ve even hosted a karaoke evening. And they cater. Call: 212-734-4TEA or stop in.
“Once upon a time there were three little sisters,” the Dormouse began in a great hurry; “and their names were Elsie, Lacie and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a great well”
“What did they live on?” said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.
“They lived on treacle,”said the Dormouse…
Haley has two children and is grateful for the freedom to take them to school every day, run a committee, and participate fully in their lives. She admits to having stayed up till three am the night before to finish bills, but says the price is low. Lauren has written a film in which she will star and is working on a cabaret act. She’s grateful to have the financial stability allowing her to do indie films. Some nights she can be found packing web orders in her apartment. No complaints. “It’s a very good business and we’re so proud of it, so lucky we can do this, it’s a dream,” they say almost simultaneously.
This fall Harper Collins will publish the first Alice’s Tea Cup cook book. Perhaps a Food Network show will follow. Alice’s Tea Cup is also offering franchise packages—under close supervision. “We don’t want cookie-cutter shops. We were advised to offer transfer murals, but we don’t want that,” Lauren comments. “Our terms say we’ll go and discuss decorating so that things are more personal. We want to be involved in more than a peripheral oversight way.” Haley agrees. The partners would like franchises to be close enough to the city for them to visit.
Two smart, talented women with a fantasy unorchestrated, unanimated, and unimagined by either Mr. Disney or Mr. Carroll have provided our city with three of the most comfy, warm, attentive, and tasty local establishments of which either man could’ve conceived.
Alice tried a little to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary way of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much: so she went on: “But why did they live at the bottom of a well?” “Take some more tea,”The March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
Watch for offers in conjunction with the March 5 opening of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.
from Radio Z100 http://rewards.z100.com/asp3/ContestDetail.aspx?AID=81973
The Daily News: Gift Certificates to Alice’s Tea Cup and
The New York Times Travel Show: Linzer Playing Card Cookies that say “Eat ME’ given away
at The Disney Booth
Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter 1: 102 West 73rd Street 212-799-3006
Chapter 2: 156 East 64th Street 212-486-9200
Chapter 3: 220 East 81st Street 212-734-4TEA
All blue quotes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat
Haley: Shake Shack with my kids, Whym with my husband, Nice Matin with my friends, Soom Soom alone.
Lauren: Blue Ribbon Bakery with friends, Candle 79 for great vegan food, Quintessence for guilt-free dessert, Shun Lee West for the best Chinese food.
Favorite Place to Shop
Haley: Anthropologie, of course.
Lauren: at Sample Sales
Favorite New York Sight
Haley: The Alice statue in Central Park. Next would be Bryant Park.
Lauren: The Alice Statue, of course! Central Park when it snows. The Algonquin Lobby & Oak Room.
Favorite New York Moment
Haley: The way New Yorkers banded together after 9/11, walking toward the wreckage rather than away, offering any assistance we all could offer. Runner-up, though, would be opera-singing homeless people.
Lauren: The same as Haley—how New Yorkers united to help after 911. Runner-up: The Thanksgiving Day Parade!
What You Love About New York
Haley: The melting pot aspect, all theater and museums and that you can get good food at 4 a.m. and walk anywhere!
Lauren: The culture—theater on and off Broadway, great film houses (The Paris, The Ziegfield, The Film Forum), Lincoln Center, and so many amazing restaurants!
What You Hate About New York
Haley: The smell in the summertime. The train system (but I love it, too… it’s a complicated relationship!)
Lauren: The subway in the summertime—hot AND smelly!!!