John Chiv/for the Times-Standard
Mad Hatter's Tea Party, located on 521 E St. in Eureka, temporarily closed for renovations in December 2012. They will officially re-open on March 14 as Chiyomi's Cuppa Tea Club.
Aside from a name change and new décor, the major change is that the Tea Club is a members-only establishment. “When it originally opened, it was more of a casual tea café. Now it is a membership club with a more personalized experience,” said owner Chiyomi Thompson. “We are still keeping the Alice in Wonderland theme, but Alice is all grown up now.”
A select group of former customers will get to preview the new club through Sunday by invitation only as its first group of members.
Chiyomi and Russ Thompson opened Mad Hatter's Tea Party in 1989. Back then, Chiyomi Thompson picked a neutral color and décor for the establishment, because she did not want to make it too “feminine.” Now the club is more of a French-style lounge with divans, chandeliers, individual serving tables and a fireplace.
In addition to tea and Chiyomi Thompson's scones and finger sandwiches, there will be soup and hors d'oeuvres. There will be opera and concert music playing in the background. The club offers 150 different kinds of tea. She makes all the scones and food. The tea is served in china cups because that makes a difference in how it tastes. For those who would like to buy tea in bulk, that option is still available.
Chiyomi Thompson has beena one-woman operation, from prep to cooking and serving. Her husband Russ is her moral support and biggest fan. They moved to Eureka 15 years ago from Los Angeles and knew no one. When they first opened, they were listed on a bulletin board on television but since then, they have not needed to advertise -- all their business developed from word of mouth.
Chiyomi Thompson's heritage is Japanese. “I grew up drinking tea,” she said. “Tea is a big part of Asian culture. In Japan, there is a religious aspect to tea. A sacred feel, depending on the tea served, like in Japanese tea ceremony.”
Serving tea in many cultures is “like welcoming a friend to your home,” said Chiyomi Thompson. “For me, this is more of a hobby and also to make a little bit of money. You cannot get rich on a place like this; to do that it has to be more like a coffeehouse. Customers tell me that they can see it's not all about money but about my love for tea.”
The membership fee is $35 a month with guests for $10 per visit. That includes tea and food, a scone workshop, individual tea blending and a discount on the scone of the month club. Members can cancel membership at any time by phone. The waiting list for memberships is limited because the space can only hold so many people at one time. For more information, call 445-3712 or visit www.madhattersteahouse.com
John Chiv is a freelance news and feature writer and local business consultant. John has a local blog,johnchiv.blogspot.com, and can be reached at 707-832-9990.