Something besides tea is brewing at Laura’s Tea Room

RIDGEWAY – Something’s up – upstairs, that is – at Carol Allen’s Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway. It’s a new consignment store called Grama’s Attic, named after Allen’s late mother, Eleanor Keene, known affectionately to Tea Room customers as Grama. Keene oversaw the Tea Room kitchen from the time it opened in 2005, at 104 S. Palmer Street until a couple of years before her death last year at age 98.

Carol Allen, left, named Grama’s Attic after her late mother, Eleanor Keene, known as Grama to Laura’s Tea Room customers. | Contributed

Everything was topsy-turvy last weekend in the historic building as Allen, her daughter, Kelly Quinn, and others transitioned the contents from Allen’s former consignment shop, The Station (a few doors down Palmer Street), to the second floor of Allen’s building where ladies wearing splendid hats have for the last 12 years enjoyed high tea featuring trays of scones, tiny sandwiches and luscious little desserts.

Now that space will be filled with antiques, consignments, vintage treasures, linens, household items and crafts along with retail items, while high tea has moved downstairs. Large tea groups will be accommodated on the mezzanine. 

Quinn, who, with her husband Craig and son Seamus, are moving back to South Carolina after 14 years in her husband’s native Ireland, will own and op 14 years in her husband’s native Ireland, will own and operate Grama’s Attic.

 Allen and Quinn spoke to The Voice with excitement about the changes as they finished each other’s sentences and communicated with a glance about their plans 

As we chatted, an Attic vendor, Lisa Branham, readied her booth. Downstairs, the tea room staff busied about serving and pouring, so the doors of the Tea Room could remain open for business despite the upheaval upstairs.

Allen gave all the glory for the smooth transition to her staff and Quinn.

“It was harder than we ever expected, moving all the items from the old location,” both women said. “But our patrons from The Station will find even more of their favorite things at Grama’s Attic,” Quinn said. “There’ll be a much greater emphasis on crafts over here.”

On this day, downstairs, the Tea Room was already humming.

Sitting at a table near the front door was a young University of South Carolina student who had selected a stunning wide-brimmed black hat from the tea room hat collection as she waited for her mother and grandmother to join her for high tea.

“This is the same china pattern that my grandmother has in Raleigh!” the student said, amazed, as she delicately examined the tea cup. Memories in the making – generations often share a table here. 

In a private alcove, an older couple quietly celebrated the wife’s 80th birthday. Allen, herself, poured their tea and chatted with the birthday girl.

Groups of women at other tables, dressed in their finery, laughed as they shared stories and pots of tea. Ginger peach was the tea flavor of the day.

A young man – greeted as a regular – stopped in to purchase his favorite tea.

“How nice to see so many young folks enjoying this tradition,” Allen said. 

She said the symbiotic relationship of the two businesses will help sustain the future of the Tea Room.

Allen says she’s thankful for, in her words, “the most amazing staff and customers. They keep me going!” Then her face lit up with a smile, “As long as they keep working, I’ll keep working,” she said.

Allen said she is looking forward to having tea customers on the ground floor – “I’ll be available more to pour tea, and mingle more with customers—plus it’s easier on the knees than running the stairs,” she said with a laugh.

Allen also sees the possibility of more gentlemen being drawn to the high tea ritual now that it’s downstairs.

“Perhaps we’ll have to add some bowlers, fedoras and top hats to the hat collection,” she said.

Reservations are still required for high tea. Hours (10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tues through Saturday) and phone number (803-337-8594) are the same for both the Tea Room and Attic as well as the smaller Café located at the rear of the Tea Room.

“Grama’s Attic opened softly this week with a grand opening planned,” Allen said, “when we can take a breath.”