Tiffany’s Tea Room
What: “A nonprofit organization that celebrates princesses of all ages”
Where: 112 Bradford St. NE, Gainesville
Contact info: 678-897-0172, www.tiffanystearoom.org
Mother’s Day Celebration
What: Formal high tea
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 11, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 12 and 13
How much: $14.99 per person; children under age 5 free
It’s like stepping inside Barbie’s Dream House.
From the "Tiffany" blue walls to the sunny yellow China from the 1940s, the candy-coated elegance is just what Tiffany Hanes saw in her mind’s eye when she was first hit with the idea to open a tea room.
"It’s important that the ambiance is happy and peaceful and calming because that’s hard to find these days," said Hanes, a Gainesville resident.
Maybe even more rare is her tea room’s business model: It’s a nonprofit.
"I wanted to create a place for women of all ages to get together with their friends and socialize and celebrate being girls," Hanes said.
"For centuries, women would get together, have tea and talk about the issues and what’s going on in their lives. It’s an art form that we’re losing. People aren’t sitting around talking face-to-face anymore.
"I could have a business where I’d make good money, but I wanted to do something that everyone could benefit from. I chose a nonprofit because I wanted to create a ministry — a movement that would continue on after I die."
Although Tiffany’s, located at 112 Bradford St. in downtown Gainesville, has only been open since last fall, hosting tea parties has been a lifelong passion for Hanes.
"I used to give tea parties for my friends when I was in high school. That continued throughout college and afterward with baby showers and what not," Hanes said.
"The reason I fell in love with it is because I love the social interaction that happens when people sit down and celebrate together. You’re taking time out of your life and that’s just special."
To make the moment even more special, Hanes has gone all out, collecting donations of fine China and scouring antique shops for more.
"We have collections that have been passed down from grandmothers and pieces that people only pulled out for holidays," Hanes said.
"People can be very attached to their China, but donating it is a way to help celebrate the everyday. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion."
Although she has lots of beautiful pieces, Hanes especially loves a burgundy and gold Dresden set she found in an antique shop.
"I couldn’t believe we found a Dresden. It’s a rarity," Hanes said.
"It’s from 1917 or 1918. It’s beautiful. Back then, artists would paint the China by hand. They don’t do that anymore."
In addition to her own bridal China, there are a few of Hanes’ family heirlooms mixed in with the donated pieces. There’s a table from her grandmother’s house that she grew up sitting around for Sunday dinners, and a few chairs that once belonged to her husband’s grandparents.
"If it doesn’t fit in, we’ll paint it, upholster it and polish it up," Hanes said.
When it comes to serving the tea, Hanes relies on the help of volunteers. Sometimes that means calling in her husband, Brett Hanes, for backup. He doesn’t seem to mind.
"I’m constantly surrounded by women," he joked, "I don’t see what there’s not to like."
The inspiration to open the tea room first came to Hanes during one of her graduate classes at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
"I thought it was an incredible idea, but I prayed about it because I wanted to make sure that God’s hand was in it. It’s useless if He’s not in it," Hanes said.
"Everything started happening so fast. We’ve really been blessed."
The tea room started next door in a smaller space next door, but after a few months, the larger, current space became available and it felt more like home to Hanes.
"When I walked in, it just felt like a tea room," Hanes said.
In addition to a lover of tea parties, she’s also a woman with great vision. From the tin ceiling to the wooden floor, the space needed a good bit of TLC to elevate it to tea room status.
Previously, Hanes only held private parties, but there are plans to open for public high teas this summer. The first tea in the new space will be held on Mother’s Day weekend. For $14.99 per person, the event will include a buffet of sweets, treats and of course, tea.
Walk-ins will be welcome and everyone is encouraged to dress up.
"We’ve had people go all out with their pearls, gloves, hats and taffeta," Hanes said.
"You don’t have to dress up, but it’s more fun if you do."
The concept of a nonprofit tea room may be difficult for some folks to grasp, but the fees for the teas aren’t padding her pocketbook, Hanes says.
"That goes to pay for the food and things like the utilities and the rent," Hanes said.
"From the kitchen to our finances, I want this to be an open book. I don’t want there to be any confusion about our purpose and why we’re doing what we’re doing. I know it’s going to take time to earn Gainesville’s trust, but we will.
"Usually nonprofits are for a very specific audience, but I didn’t want to do something that would pigeonhole us."
There isn’t just one beneficiary or a tangible donation to hand out. She has held fundraisers for the Children’s Miracle Network, Challenged Child & Friends and the First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville Child Development Center.
The at-cost tea parties are meant to foster good will in all attendees — be that youth groups, nonprofit board members or friends from a retirement home.
"We’re not isolated to one specific denomination or cause. There are more than 200 nonprofits in Hall County, I just wanted to be here for whoever wants to use us," Hanes said.
"I wanted to have a way to help other groups support their missions. It’s a big, big idea, but we’re rocking and rolling."
For now, there’s only one location, but Hanes envisions a host of tea rooms sprinkled all over. The survival of the inner-child may depend on it.
"I think everyone likes to play tea party," Hanes said.
"It’s a time to relax, to celebrate the everyday and to just enjoy being with your girl friends. Anytime people can sit down and talk, it’s a good thing.
"A lot can happen over tea."