For Catherine Wetmore, it’s always tea time.
At least, it has been since Jan. 19 when she opened her business Catherine’s Victorian Tea Room downtown.
With numerous varieties of this classic beverage on the menu, including iced tea and sweet tea in addition to cream tea, light afternoon tea and full afternoon tea, the business offers customers a place to step back into time for a good old-fashioned tea party.
Walking through the ornate front door gives visitors a sense that they have passed through a portal to the past as they survey the numerous tables set for tea and the Victorian-style furniture, decorations and accessories that adorn the room and walls.
The restaurant, which serves lunch in addition to tea, has been a three-year dream for Wetmore and a result of a lifetime love of beautiful Victorian-themed items and settings.
A California native, Wetmore owns the business with her husband, Brian. While Brian was born in Houston, his father’s job in the oil business required them to move to California when he was a teenager.
The couple met in 1987 when he came into the restaurant where Wetmore was working as a hostess. They married a year later, recently celebrating their 31st wedding anniversary.
After Brian retired two years ago from his job at a water treatment plant, the couple decided to move to Brenham from Orange County, California to be closer to his parents.
“But we didn’t want to move to Katy where they lived,” said Wetmore. “They had a boat, and they were taking it out to Somerville Lake, so they said ‘Well, check out Brenham.’
“So we did, and I found a house that I loved. We flew out the next weekend and looked at it and ended up buying it. And here we are.
“I loved the town and the sweet people of Brenham.”
The idea for Wetmore’s business began in 2016, when she invited friends over for a fancy tea party to celebrate an engagement.
“The response was truly overwhelming,” she said. “Some had tears well up because they were in awe of the ambiance, table setting and assorted food and treats.
“At that moment I felt a heartfelt passion grow to create a place where women can get away for a time to be free to have fun, dress up and have a tea party with friends.
“I felt like it was a calling.”
However, her original vision was much smaller than the end result. “I wanted to have it in my house, because we bought an old Victorian,” explained Wetmore. “I wanted to have it in one bedroom and just have ladies come over from Bible study or church or friends. But God had bigger plans.”
It soon became apparent that their house would not be a feasible place for the tea room, so Wetmore began searching for a new location.
“We started looking at places to rent around here, but nothing really fit until I found this place,” said Wetmore, referring to their location at S. St. Charles St. “I love the bar, I think it really adds to it, and I love the faux stain-glass ceiling.”
Finding a building, however, was one of the easy parts of the process. Wetmore had then to transform her new location into a place fit for a proper tea party, which turned out to be a seven-month process.
“This place was a storehouse for many years,” she said. “It was pretty dirty. We just started getting to work cleaning and painting.”
This is Wetmore’s first time owning a business, and other than the hostess job where she met her husband, it is her first experience in the restaurant industry.
In fact, she had always avoided waitressing after one encounter with a brief serving position gave her a long-time fear of the job.
“I was always scared of waitressing because when I was 19, I tried waitressing and I spilled a glass of wine on someone,” said Wetmore. “It just freaked me out so bad that I said, ‘I’ll never waitress again!’ So it became a phobia. But I love waitressing here.”
Not only does Wetmore run the business and wait tables, she also makes all the items offered on the menu, including soups, salads, sandwiches, quiches, scones, tarts, chicken pot pies and desserts. “We make everything,” said Wetmore.
“They’re just recipes I came across, or I’ll doctorate my own stuff into it. I like to do that, figure out what works, what’s good. So no one really has my recipes. They’re basically mine,” she added with a laugh.
While her numerous responsibilities often require working long hours and do not always leave abundant free time, Wetmore believes that it is worth it to see the delight her business brings to people.
“People just love it,” she said. “They come in and some of them gasp, because I don’t think they were expecting it. They weren’t expecting it to be so beautiful. They thank me. I get thank-yous every day.
“They say, ‘We needed a tea room in Brenham.’ They just love it, and they come all the time and bring their friends. I think it’s just really rewarding, just the response.”
Even though it has only been open for two months, the tea room has received a positive response, sometimes serving 60 customers a day. “It all depends, but it’s getting to be more and more,” said Wetmore. “Sometimes in the morning there’ll be a group of people and there’ll be people at the door.”
They have hosted a wide range of visitors, including elderly ladies, Bible study groups, the Red Hat Society, a brownie troupe, birthday parties and families.
“I think the name attracts people,” said Wetmore. “Catherine’s Victorian Tea Room. It’s not just a tea room, because lots of people think of tea as Chinese tea or stuff like that. Also, it’s actually a place where you can dress up to come have lunch and tea.
“Some people will come in dressed up, and they’ll even wear their own hats.”
The business also provides customers with items to wear for free, including hats, gloves, boas and scarves for women and top hats, canes and suits for men.
“We have all kinds of stuff to dress up and take pictures,” said Wetmore. “We even have an old whiskey bottle from the 1800s and a fake cigar for men.”
She collected the items from a variety of sources, including thrift stores and donations.
“People can dress up and sit at their table if they like to,” she said. “Some people want to wear a hat while they’re drinking tea.”
Family is another element of the business that is important to Wetmore. Both her husband and one of her two children help out with the tea room, and she also enjoys meeting all the families who come in for lunch.
“I love just bringing families together and seeing families together,” said Wetmore. “Nobody’s on their cellphones, unless they’re taking pictures. There’s real interactions and conversations.”
Wetmore hopes that her business will continue to produce such an effect. “My prayer is that this tea room will bring friendships together, renew family ties, and start traditions with children that will be in their memories for many years to come,” she said.
“I want it to stay open for 10 years. I want to maybe have people rent this place out, maybe if people want to have a party and rent the place out and get their own catering. These are just things we’re thinking about.”
The building also has a patio Wetmore hopes to use in the summertime. “It’s not going to be full-service, but you can get food and go and sit out there,” she said.
“My heart is filled with joy and honor to serve all of you sweet people,” said Wetmore. “I hope and pray that God does wonderful things in the coming years.
“This place is a labor of love for my husband and I, and I hope you feel that when you enter the Tea Room.”
The tea room is open Wednesdays-Saturdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sundays from 12-4 p.m.