DRACUT — Deborah Perry picked up a vinyl lace tablecloth from the back of a booth seat and placed it on a table at one end of Laudi’s Breakfast House.
“Can you put a sugar bowl on this table?” Perry asked Nicholas Jarek, her operations manager for the day. “That one’s always the first to go.”
On the bright red counter was a cardboard box. Perry, 63, reached in and pulled out tea cups and saucers wrapped in cotton towels.
It was shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and Perry was preparing for “Tea & Fancies,” a new business venture the Dracut resident began about two months ago at the diner she co-owns with her husband, Glen. Every Tuesday after the diner closes, Perry turns on classical music. The napkin dispensers, ketchup bottles and salt shakers are cleared from each table. The floor is mopped thoroughly again.
Then, she waits. After 2 p.m., customers come in for pots of tea and scones, as well as savory sandwiches. The offerings are a la carte, and the weekly menu is kept secret.
Perry said her idea stemmed, in part, from the experience of having tea with her children, Aubrey and Bryant, at Elizabeth Ann’s Tea Room, which has long been closed in Tyngsboro. The retired teacher said she also likes to entertain, preferring to pour the first cup of tea herself so that customers feel pampered.
“I just would like it to be a place where people can just come, and just relax and not think about what’s out there,” Perry said. “The tea is hot, the food is good, and conversation’s good. And you’re surrounded by people you know.”
She calls it the simplicity of tea.
With help from Jarek and Ernest Dixon IV, both 19, Perry placed the tea cups and saucers in neat rows on the counter. Jarek, who said he didn’t know anything about tea before this, lined the edge of the counter with an artificial flower garland.
The first customer walked in shortly before 2 p.m. Gail Malliaros-Golec, 67, of Pelham, told Perry she was meeting a friend. Perry brought her a laminated tea menu offering herbal and black teas: chamomile, peach, strawberry, and more. Malliaros-Golec looked around at the space with a newcomer’s eyes.
“It’s a regular diner seven days a week,” Perry explained. “For three hours, it’s a tea room.”
“Ohhh,” said Malliaros-Golec, her eyes widening. “So that’s what you do.”
“Yes,” Perry said.
“On Tuesdays?” Malliaros-Golec asked.
Later that afternoon, Dracut resident Vallery Miller, 50, and her 10-year-old daughter, Kelsie, enjoyed tea with Miller’s friend, Melissa Sorbello, 51, of Dracut. Their other friend, Michelle Cooke, 47, of Pelham, would soon join them.
The group of four talked and laughed over cups of hot tea and mixed berry scones. The day’s menu included zucchini soup with a ham salad sandwich for $8.50, and what Perry called “Wooh Wooh Lemon!” — a cupcake with lemon curd and butter cream frosting.
Miller said they have been coming to ‘Tea & Fancies’ since it was launched. She said it’s nice to “lady chat” with her friends.
“I just love this. It’s such a relaxing thing, just getting out of school with my daughter and just shooting up here,” Miller said. “We just have a good time kicking back and relaxing.”