The Wenham Tea House earned the unanimous backing of Town Meeting voters in less than five minutes on Wednesday night, giving approval for town leaders go to the Legislature with a request for a liquor license.
“Oh, this was easy,” said Moderator Tony Feeherry, who minutes earlier had been approved as temporary moderator for the Special Town Meeting for the evening. Moderator Paul Weaver was on vacation and out of the country but was on standby via Skype, if needed.
A total of 130 registered voters checked in at the meeting at Buker Elementary School – a quorum of 56 voters was required to conduct business. No formal tally was conducted and the count was conducted simply by looking at the voter card that were being held up.
With Town Meeting approval, a home rule petition will now be submitted to Beacon Hill for the Tea House to get a so-called “pouring license” than it plans to use as part of a revived restaurant and tea house operation. Former operator Emma Roberts left in December and the tea house portion has been closed since then.
And at the meeting, the new operator of the Tea House was revealed – Henry’s Foods.
When reopened, the Tea House will be called “The Wenham Tea House featuring Henry’s Fine Foods,” said Henry’s owner John Keohane.
Keohane said after the meeting that nothing now stands in the way of Henry’s becoming the newest manager of the restaurant and tea house operation. The deal with the Tea House’s non-profit owner, the Wenham Village Improvement Association, is final after the Town Meeting vote, he said.
Keohane, a Danvers resident, was on hand at the meeting to field any questions about his plans, if needed. But there were no questions.
Longtime Tea House manager Julie Perkins will work for Keohane and about 10 full-time and part-time employees will also be hired.
The company that was founded by Henry Swanson in 1941 and runs Henry’s of North Beverly plans to reopen the Tea House restaurant in early April.
Keohane has owned Henry’s since 2005. But Henry's has a link to Wenham - Henry Swanson died in 2008 and for about 20 years lived on Larch Row in Wenham.
Keohane’s son, Chris, will serve as the Tea House’s operations manger. Chris Keohane said his first memories of Henry Swanson were swimming in his backyard pool at the Larch Row home as a child.
There will also be a small gift shop including items such as local books, greeting cards, live floral arrangements, dog treats from Dog Spa (that is also owned by the Keohanes), teaware and butter fudge, that will be made on site.
Henry’s plans to continue the long tradition of tea at the longest running, continuously operated tea house in the country. The Wenham Tea House is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2012.
The tea house will be open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., which will include brunch.
After 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and after 2 p.m. on Sunday, it will be open for private parties. Chris Keohane said that would include events such as bridal showers, birthday parties and engagement parties.
Chris Keohane said the tea house would continue the tradition of tea service at the Wenham Tea House with British-American style tea with white glove service. Loose-leaf tea will be steeped at the table and brewed at the correct temperature.
“What we want to do it bring back that elegant service,” he said.
And there will also be a complimentary tea station available whenever the Tea House is open, Keohane said, which will hopefully help introduce more people to tea. Keohane said he doesn’t want it to “feel like a stiff pretentious thing,” but also wants to be able to serve tea to the “most discerning tea consumer.”
Henry’s has already begun work to prepare the building. The kitchen has been gutted and a new floor has been installed in addition to new kitchen equipment, including an oven and stove. Repainting will begin on Monday, Keohane said.
Two other items were also unanimously approved by Town meeting voters – transferring insurance money received to cover the cost of a police cruiser that was damaged in the October snowstorm and transferring money to cover the cost of a water department generator damaged in a fire and other unanticipated expenses.