Blanch Henry, Owner and Founder of Serenity Tearoom & Fine Dining, has spent almost 15 years serving up afternoon teas to the people of Frederick. From passionate admirer of all things tea to a successful business owner, she has inspired countless patrons with her story—and a knack for Southern hospitality.
Tell us about yourself and your business.
My name is Blanch Henry, and I am the owner of Serenity Tearoom and Fine Dining. We opened as a storefront in September of 2005 on E. Patrick St in Downtown Frederick. I was able to seat about 25 guests in my main dining room and I had a second room which was a retail shop. I was located there for 10 years, and then back in 2015 we expanded over at W. Patrick St. We’ve been here for a few years.
How did you get into the business of the Tearoom? What sparked that passion for you?
A love of tea. Back before I was born, my grandmother had purchased me a china pattern. I always grew up seeing this china, and so I just kind of loved it and adored it: I fell in love with the design of teacups and saucers. So I started educating myself about the tradition of afternoon teas, and I started hosting them for friends at my house and women at my church, and everybody was saying: this is a gift! So, in 1989, in my women’s group at church we did a year-long study with connecting with your talent, and that’s when I truly felt that my purpose was to one day open up a tearoom. I truly believe we all were born for a God-given purpose, and mine was just a thing that transpired over my life of me collecting the teacups to me just loving the teas and the food and learning how to prepare it. It was not done fast and quick.
What prepared you for owning a business?
I went to college for accounting, but when my grandmother got sick, I decided to come home and take care of her--she was my heart. Six months after I did that, she passed away. I do not regret stopping college to take care of her because I would not have been able to live with myself if I didn’t. But that type of experience with numbers and things and working jobs and knowing I had some experience with business classes helped prepare me. Whenever I could get some more education on the topic, even if I had to pay for it out of our finances, I tried to do those things.
What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of being a business owner and starting your own tearoom?
For me, my business is also my ministry. To be able to share God with my customers, if they choose, is something that I love about it. Also, having people enjoy the food that we are preparing...that is rewarding to me. From the time they walk in the door, we want to give you the full package: the Southern hospitality, the love, the good food, the ambiance, good service. I want them to feel that love. And I’m not saying every day is perfect, but our goal is to make a positive change in those human beings that are walking through that door. And we hope that you can leave happy, that you can leave feeling good.
What has your experience been like with being a part of the business community in Frederick?
The business was actually licensed in 2004 when I started off catering. The support of small businesses was excellent for me, because I had other small businesses downtown that would allow me to put flyers about teas I was hosting at Clustered Spires, where I was catering. Within eight months of doing that, there was another tea place that was at our E. Patrick location that was leaving. So, I built a rapport with them--I would go in and talk to them, and then I found out that they were closing down. They let me know at that point that they were selling their equipment and breaking their lease, and they said to talk to their landlord about opening up my tea room in that space. Because of that advice, I was able to open up officially in December of 2005.
What’s something that you’ve learned from your business experiences?
It’s rough. I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy. But there are resources. I believe Downtown Frederick Partnership is an excellent organization for us businesses. I don’t know if my business would be what it is, or be as successful as it is, without the work that they do. Our wins on TV, on the Food Network, have been an excellent plus as well--that publicity has been good for us as a business. I think because I’m so involved in my church and because I am a hands-on business owner, I just don’t have a lot of free time to participate in Downtown. I kind of wish I did have more time to do those things--to know what is going on and to be a part of it.
Can you tell us more about your experience on The Food Network? What was that like?
The first show that we won was called Family Food Feud on Guy’s Grocery Games. After that, we were called back two other times and we won each time. I will tell you; it is an awesome feeling to win. For me, it was just amazing, because as a young, black female growing up in South Carolina, I could never imagine that I would have been on national television. So, I am still just in awe about the whole experience. I’m not taking it for granted, I will never take it for granted. And I had fun doing it. I really enjoyed it.
Tell us about that famous purple building! Did you choose it?
Yes, I did! My two favorite colors are purple and yellow. Once I found out that purple is a royalty color, that made me love it even more. It was so funny, because when that building was being painted purple, I started paying attention through the window, and I could see all the people who drove up to that light outside the building. And they would stop, and they would look over and they literally would smile! I’m about laughter and smiling, so when I saw that, I knew it...purple was the right choice.
Are there any issues that you would like to talk about that are unique to being a woman, particularly a non-white woman, in the business world in Frederick?
I’m not going to tell you it’s not hard being a black business owner. It is. And it could be harder for me because of the type of business that I have. But I think all restaurants, on some level, no matter what type of restaurant it is, have some type of issue, and have some type of hardship. I’m seeing the support getting better. I’m seeing improvement from the Black community, from the Caucasian community, from everybody. I don’t think it matters so much anymore that I’m black. I think it matters that I’m giving a good product; good service.
Was there ever a moment when you felt maybe it was all too much and maybe you weren’t going to make it and if so, how did you overcome that roadblock?
Well, that comes up a couple of times a year. Because our goal is to be loving and caring and, when it’s the low peak of the season and the budget is not being met, you have some thoughts. But for me, because of my spirituality, I know that God has made a way out of no way for me. But, you know, it’s a process. It’s tough, and it can add up.
Do you have any advice for women or other minority business owners who may be considering entering the restaurant world or starting their own business?
Love what you do from the get-go. Because, it’s long, hard hours, if you’re going to be a dedicated, committed owner. When the money is not coming in the way you thought it would and you’re exhausted--your feet are hurting, your body is tired--and you know you’ve gotta get up and do it again the next day, if you honestly don’t love what you do, you’re going to start fading. I love what I do. I have fun with it, I enjoy my children being a part of it and my husband being a part of it because he has been a true backbone for me--he’s there to support. And I’m grateful to all my employees. I think, get the support that you can get; go in knowing all the facts that you can possibly know, but you may not know everything because things change. It’s life. And I didn’t want to live my life not being happy because I didn’t try because I was too scared.