BAE Interview: Lisa’s Tea Treasures
Walking in Downtown Los Altos, it is likely that you’ve passed by Lisa’s Tea Treasures. Through the glass windows lies an elegant interior filled with curtains, floral arrangements and a dazzling supply of aromatic tea leaves. The warm atmosphere makes it comfortable for anyone to come in, alone or with company, and enjoy the ambience of Victorian High Tea.
Thao Nguyen and Tim Pham, the current owners of Lisa’s Tea Treasures, have been running their business for 14 years after taking over for the previous owner. The establishment began back in 1988 as a chain of stores operated by Lisa Strauss — hence the name — based on the same theme of a closed-space Tea House. The Los Altos establishment remains true to this concept, offering scones, sandwiches and hot drinks from morning through the late afternoon. However, once Strauss went bankrupt, most shops fell into the hands of independent owners, including Nguyen and Tham.
With the recent COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, however, their services have severely slowed.
“We probably do about 10 percent of what we normally do,” Nguyen explains, noting how brutal the pandemic has been on her unique business model, not normally accustomed to takeout and outdoor dining.
At the time of our interview, only sidewalks can be used for restaurants to seat patrons. Streets remain open to vehicles. However, through the new county regulations, Nguyen has taken advantage of outdoor dining to the best of her ability. The three small tables placed just outside the doorway attract a steady stream of customers, and Nguyen and her staff remain committed to keeping their shop running. Still, she remarks, the current model would not be enough to sustain them.
For this reason, Nguyen, along with other restaurant owners in Downtown Los Altos, is supportive of Measure C (a proposal to close streets in downtown Los Altos to allow for outdoor dining, approved in June), backed by a majority of restaurants in downtown Los Altos. The proposal was presented and deliberated upon on Tuesday, June 9, by the Los Altos City Council; many other downtown establishments, such as The Post, said online that such a discussion was long overdue. Nguyen asserted that acting like the struggle of restaurants doesn’t exist will do more harm than good.
Nguyen is also at a loss as to explain why retailers are so hostile to street closures. She asserts that “the way we should be going forward is to close down the streets and fine tune later.” She stresses that every week marks more strain and less revenue coming in for restaurants.
She does, however, acknowledge that in spite of all the hardships endured by her business and fellow restaurants, there have been some heartwarming moments of generosity.
“People have been a lot kinder than normal,” she explains, with some even offering donations and tips ranging from 50% to even 100%. While Lisa’s Tea Treasures does not have a way to donate online, Nguyen remains thankful for the loyalty and generosity of her customers.
Nevertheless, she makes it clear that as a community, we have a lot more to accomplish. When asked what she would most like to say to the people of Los Altos and restaurant-lovers in the Bay Area, Nguyen replied, “Stay local, be flexible, and please be more understanding of the challenges restaurants are facing.”
Find out more about Lisa’s Tea Treasures here:
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