Travel seems to occur in cycles for me. One year I may find myself in Toronto several times for various reasons. Another year it will be Orlando or Atlanta. This year, it is is Minneapolis and Phoenix. On my last day trip to Phoenix, I decided I would carve out an hour to see what I could find on the order of tea. And here is where I discovered Gooseberries Tea Room and Boutique.
Located in an unassuming strip mall, this treasure of a tea room has been quietly entertaining legions of fans for 30 years, though the current owners have been in place for just the past few. Who’da thunk that one could find such a peaceful, cool, relaxing oasis of tea in the hot, hot, heat of Phoenix? I had made the required reservations in order to have the full afternoon tea, and was led to my own private table that had a little personalized sign welcoming me. Deb, the server, brought out the tea room’s signature rose water and took my order for tea. When it comes to afternoon tea, I must, of course, have the English Breakfast. Soon, my tea arrived and was placed on the cutest teapot warmer I have yet encountered. (Gooseberries – where can I get one of these for myself?!?)
The first course was brought out: a tiered tray of sandwiches. A feast for the eyes as well as the appetite! All open-faced, and in fun shapes (the turkey and cranberry sandwich was cut in the shape of a tea pot!), there was plenty of savory goodness to satisfy the hungriest of patrons.
Then came the basket of scones and a plate of sweets. I loved that the scones were served in a linen-lined basket to keep them piping hot. This was a first in my tea room experiences, and I loved it! Along with the scones, there was plenty of Devon cream, jam, and even lemon curd. If you have not experienced lemon curd before, I highly recommend it. Imagine all the lemony-goodness of an entire lemon meringue pie (without the meringue) packed into one bite. Intensely wonderful. At this point in my meal, I was already reaching capacity. And there was still dessert!!! A delicate chocolate butterfly balanced in a tiny pastry cup of chocolate and cream, along with two other mini desserts. I had to actually request a to-go box.
Yes, I enjoy tea. And I certainly enjoy the variety of styles and personalities of tea rooms I have visited over the years. But one of the things I enjoy most is discovering the story behind the tea moment. Who created this space? What is important to them? What do they enjoy most?
Enter Debbie Parnham. She has that certain air and grace about her that I often hope to achieve when I grow up someday. Beauty, style, and down-to-earth warmth and hospitality. We quickly found that we both have been involved in public speaking, though hers has been focused on women in prison. I found it hard to imagine this lovely and soft-spoken creature before me standing and speaking to roomfuls of hardened criminals, and yet I could see that her absolute approachability would make it work beautifully. She shared that her greatest joy in having this tea room is to be able to have tea parties for women and girls who might not otherwise have such an opportunity.
She has hosted a tea party for women in shelters, who have few or no possessions. This was a rare opportunity for these women to share a day of fellowship and beauty together – hopefully a day without worry or care. On this particular occasion, each woman was able to go home with her own tea cup that had been donated. Debbie shared that when she announced everyone would be able to keep her tea cup, the room erupted in screams and shouts of joy. Such small gifts and treasures can have such a special impact.
In another tea party, she brought the event to girls in juvenile detention. Though discouraged from bringing fine china and utensils, Debbie was adamant about “doing it right.” In addition to the full tea service, she brought blouses for each girl to wear to the party. One girl commented, “I feel so weird!” “Why?” Debbie asked. “I haven’t worn real clothes in years.” Some of these girls have been incarcerated for so long, they don’t have any real grasp of the outside world, street clothes, and so many of the things we take for granted. Despite the warnings of the danger of bringing the real tea party to a bunch of hooligans, Debbie shared that the girls behaved extremely well and seemed to really enjoy this time to have fun together and be… feminine.
These are events she hopes to continue. It was all very inspiring and got my mind reeling on the possibilities of what it could look like if more communities got together and hosted events such as these – to let the struggling women among us know they are not forgotten or unimportant.
This sneak peek into Debbie’s joys and passions provides the best sense of how you feel when you visit the place of rest and beauty she has created for the whole community of Phoenix. A visit to Gooseberries is a must!
Gooseberries is located in the AJ’s Shopping Center – 7th Street and Thunderbird -at the Southwest Corner
13216 N 7th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
The Tea Time Menu is available by reservation only, so be sure to call at least a day before!