More change for Argyle St.: World Tea House facelift

Café owner using customer lull amid Nova Centre construction to do some renovations

Demolishing the original service area, which hasn't changed since the space was occupied by Uncommon Grounds, a competing coffee shop.
A contractor demolishing the original service area, which hasn’t changed since the space was occupied by Uncommon Grounds, a competing coffee shop.   Shelby Bona

There’s brown paper covering the windows of the World Tea House on Argyle Street.

But the shop’s not a casualty of the continuing construction of the Nova Centre.

After nearly six years running the business, owner Philip Holmans decided it was time to spruce up the place.

The World Tea House has been closed since Feb. 1, 2016 for renovations. If all goes to plan, on Tuesday the shop will unveil the first in what is to be a series of upgrades over the next six months.

“Our main reason for renovating is because we closed our [Sunnyside Mall] location. So we had all these counters and shelving from that store,” he says, sitting in his shop — which is looking a little battered as the demolition begins — sipping coffee from a skull mug.

Holmans says the service area is getting a complete overhaul, including the tea bar along the counter that will add additional seating in the small space.

“I wanted something small to start… we came in here a couple of times and just sat in this space, me and my partner, and we said, ‘this feels good’,” he says. “It’s intimate.”

Community focus

The façade of The World Tea House on Argyle Street.
The façade of The World Tea House on Argyle Street.   Shelby Bona

Despite seeing a 30 per cent decline in traffic since construction began on the convention centre, Holmans says the Argyle Street location still maintains a loyal customer base.

A number of merchants including the Carleton Street Bar and Grill and the Wooden Monkey have voiced concerns in the media that they are having difficulty remaining financially afloat amid the ongoing construction around Argyle Street.

Elinor Crosby, a long-time customer, says she’s excited to see what the shop will look like.

“When I was in grad school, I would always suggest it for meetings and group projects… basically any excuse I could use to get more delicious tea,” she says.

Crosby is hoping the renovations will provide a little more room because “it’s occasionally a bit cramped.”

And also because she’s missing her favourite weekly hangout spot.

“The knitting group I belong to meets there every Tuesday evening and we couldn’t this week,” she says.

Martine Granger — who hasn’t visited the shop since she and her family moved from Halifax two years ago — is still a loyal customer, replenishing her tea supply regularly from the shop’s website.

“My son (five at the time) also loved going,” she says. “He was drawing pictures for Phil all the time and asking the staff to put them in his mailbox when he wasn’t in.”

One of those pictures is still in the store, next to the cash register where everyone is sure to see it.

“We’ve had people meet here, begin dating here, then get married and use our tea as their wedding favours,” he says, laughing. “Their children now drink our tea.”

The grand reveal

Th 're-steeping' process will be a continuing project for The World Tea House over the next six months, says Holmans.
The ‘re-steeping’ process will be a continuing project for the World Tea House over the next six months.   Shelby Bona

After the hectic days of demolition and construction are over, Holmans says he is looking forward to finding some way to give back to the tea-loving community.

“We want to have a tea party… sometime in March. Something to say ‘thank you’ to our customers,” he says, his voice echoing off the walls.

Holmans says one feature he would like to bring to the store is a world map mural for a large expanse of empty wall.

“You could be like, ‘Hey, you’re buying this tea. This is where it came from on our wonderful planet’,” he says. “People are like, ‘You know where your tea comes from?’ Of course we do.”

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