I first met Emma Canoles when I took my daughter to her neighborhood shop in Hamilton, Emma’s Tea Spot. True to it’s name, the shop is really hers. Not a stranger walked through that door; everyone was greeted with an enthusiastic hello while she busied herself making sammies and butties behind the counter. You are made to feel immediately at home and at ease.
Naturally, I needed to get to know her better!
Emma grew up in rural England, where she started her great relationship with food and nature. Her family had gardens and fruit trees, and the children were expected to contribute to the family meals. So while they would play in the woods, they would collect berries and such to bring home for dinner.
She brought that same mindset to Baltimore when she started the Garden Tuck Shop, a farm to table lunch program at New Century School in Fell’s Point. The guiding principle of the program? Teaching young students that good food is actually good! Everyday, she would prepare a vegetarian/nut free lunch for all the students and take the children out into the community on nature walks. She taught students how to forage for foods, when certain foods are in season, and why our bodies feel more fulfilled when we eat seasonally. As a result, the children started to look at and engage in their communities with fresher eyes — and understand why it’s important to eat food grown locally.
When she divorced several years ago and moved to Hamilton, Emma made a conscientious effort to get to know everyone in her new neighborhood. She would stop in at all the businesses and chat, something she still does every day. One of the stops she would frequently make was the organic market, Green Onion.
“It just felt like home to me,” said Emma. “It was the kind of space I always wanted to have.”
When the market closed, the owners offered Emma an incredible deal — and the opportunity to fulfill her dream of opening her own tea shop. The timing wasn’t ideal. She had just remarried and was living with a newly blended family of 3 children. But her new husband encouraged her to seize the opportunity (because they never seem to come at the perfect moment, right?). She left her job at New Century and jumped in.
It has been a true family effort. Her husband took over child care during the first three months; her 11-year old helps clean the restaurant after hours. Ongoing family support has given her the courage to make such a life leap.
“Fear is like a pigeon,” she said. “If you keep feeding it, it just gets bigger.”
After an intense first few months getting the restaurant open, she is slowly pulling back her hours so she can spend more time with her family. Schedules are key to launching a new business and still maintaining a semblance of family life for Emma and her crew (the kids are 11, 7, and 3). During the week, they stick to routines to help the household run smoothly. Because she likes to make all meals from scratch, she will do a lot of meal prep for the week at the restaurant and have things for the freezer at home. Sundays when they have their children are sacrosanct. Those days are family days.
It was important to Emma that her shop not only provide a proper British experience, but that it be very family-friendly. The vibe is casual (no white linen or white gloves). A cupboard houses crayons and toys to keep little hands busy. A child’s play kitchen sits near the tables, so children can play as their adults nosh on biscuits and a brew. The shop has “Snack and Story Time” events on the last Thursday of the month. During story time, kids are treated to a British-themed craft, a Mr. Men Collection story, hot chocolate, biscuit and more for $10. Often times, Emma’s younger girls will participate in that while her son is doing a class nearby. Then he will come and join everyone for some hot chocolate and a snack before they all head home together.
The tea and biscuits may be delicious, but it’s the people that really make Emma’s Tea Spot an experience.
“People ask me how long tea should take, and I always tell them a few hours,” said Emma. “It’s not that we serve multiple courses, it’s that you’ll start talking after you pour your first cup and just keep on chatting.”
Tea is served in pots from an eclectic collection that oftentimes come from customers themselves. Several families have donated teapots from a loved ones’s collection and Emma makes sure to serve them in those pots stop in.
The restaurant very much reflects what Emma has built for herself — a warm, cozy, delicious life. (Can’t really ask for more than that, right?)
Photos by Wendy Hickok, Wendy Hickok Photography.