It’s Tea Time
Thursday, February 28, 2013
By Shelley Swift
Pictures by Matt Detrich
Four-year-old Sierra Contreras knew exactly where she wanted to spend her birthday last weekend — sipping tea from china cups with her friends at Sassafras Tea Room in downtown Greenwood.
Even though her mom, Damaris Contreras, gave her three options for her party, Sierra selected Sassafras, where she had held her birthday party the year before.
Whether for birthday parties, baby showers or simply lunch, ladies of all ages can be seen ascending the steps of the two-story, yellow Georgian house at 229 N. Madison Ave.
Some come dressed in their Sunday best, including fancy hats and formal white gloves, fully prepared to enjoy a meal or afternoon tea. Members of the Red Hat Society — a women’s group known for wearing bright red and purple — often meet there for lunch.
The century-old structure — built as a physician’s resident in the early 1900s — is filled with tables covered in lace doilies, whimsical salt-and-pepper shakers, and formal cups and saucers. Hot tea is served from a variety of ornate pots, some of which have been donated by previous guests.
“The other day, a lady brought me a 12-piece place setting that she wanted to see put to good use. She’s coming in soon and bringing her great aunt, so we’ll be able to serve them on their own china,” said the tea room’s proprietor, Cheryl Lutz Domi.
The first-time business owner loves to watch guests enjoying themselves at her establishment, which opened in January 2010.
“I enjoy entertaining and being a part of people’s lives and special times,” she said. “What we try to do is emphasize family traditions and memories, getting different generations together to have quality time a nice setting, rather than sitting down for fast food.”
Donna Nix, Greenwood, meets friends there for lunch once or twice a week. “I love the food, and I love the atmosphere,” she said.
In addition to regulars, Lutz Domi sees customers from as far as Columbus, Mooresville and Louisville.
A former interior designer, she entered the hospitality business by accident. When a friend asked for her helping opening a couple of restaurants on Indianapolis’ Northside, Lutz Domi happily agreed. AS her friend was preparing to open the tea room in Greenwood, her plans changed, and she asked Lutz Domi whether she’d like to buy the place.
She agreed and has never looked back.
“It’s a lot of work, but there are a lot of rewards,” said Lutz Domi, whose parents and two grown kids can often be found working alongside her at the restaurant.
Many customers say Sassafras reminds them of the former L.S. Ayres tea room in Downtown Indianapolis, but Lutz Domi wouldn’t know. She grew up near Evansville, and never visited the famous tea spot.
Even so, she loves seeing people bring in their grandkids to relive those fond memories, sipping tea and snacking on cookies and scones.
Many little girls like to play dress-up when they visit, wearing a touch of makeup and their fanciest dresses, often toting along a doll or two. Lutz Domi caters to the doll guests, often hosting American Girl parties and even selling doll clothing in the tea room’s tiny gift shop.
The tea room is a popular spot for wedding rehearsals, business meetings and other events, the owner said. A Mother’s Day brunch and holiday tea with Mrs. Claus also are favorites.
Guest can order off the menu at lunchtime, or enjoy a selection of teas and desserts for afternoon tea. Lutz Domi has created all the recipes herself and occasionally updates the limited menu. Quich is the most popular item, followed by chicken salad and chicken velvet soup, a classic made using the L.S. Ayres tea room recipe.
Afternoon tea consists of three types of finger sandwiches, scones and a variety of sweets, along with two to three types of hot tea.
“Its’ just like a traditional English tea party. We use linen napkins and fancy tea pots to make it extra special, and we really encourage guests to relax and enjoy some good conversation,” she said.