The owners of Alice’s Tea Cup, Haley and Lauren Fox, are considering selling the business they began nearly two decades ago. The sisters cited staffing shortages, bad weather, pandemic regulations and the hurdles of running afternoon tea outside during the pandemic, the New York Times first reported.
“We were in the middle of building the interior when Sept. 11 happened,” said Lauren Fox, 51. “When people sat down for a pot of tea and a scone they felt safe, comforted and normal. There are no windows inside, so it’s a real rabbit’s hole feeling, like you’re hidden from everything. People really responded to that, and to us.”
A key component of Alice’s charm is the atmosphere inside, and the pandemic made that experience extremely hard to enjoy with indoor seating regulations. “We are a destination spot for family gatherings, friends connecting, kids having tea with their parents, and birthday, baby and bridal parties. Those things can’t be transferred,” said Haley Fox, 47. “During Covid the word ‘pivot’ was used a lot. People kept saying, ‘We will pivot to a delivery business or make the front a grocery store.’ There’s no pivoting for us. This is a niche business.”
A cup of tea on the sidewalk is obviously a different experience than the cozy whimsical décor the Fox sisters curated for Alice’s, which has locations on the Upper East Side (156 East 64th Street), the Upper West Side (102 West 73rd Street), and in Brooklyn Heights (43 Hicks Street). Children under 12 make up a large percentage of Alice’s patrons, and since vaccines haven’t been approved for them yet, this makes demand for outdoor seating very high.
In June 2020, the Fox sisters received an $800,000 grant from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund for each of their Manhattan tea houses. They told the Times if it wasn’t for this federal program they would have folded within the year and yet, they still faced a plethora of challenges money couldn’t fix including forced lockdowns, constant regulatory changes, the trial-by-error evolution of their outdoor spaces, inclement weather and staffing shortages.
But since reopening, they’ve struggled to keep up with the demand for outdoor seating. “We are sitting on something that needs expansion and the right people who understand our vision and know how to do that. We don’t. We can no longer grow it or help it thrive.”