On each table in Wendi Deans’s tea shop there’s a cell phone “bed,” with a note inviting readers to let their phones rest, and enjoy the person or people they’re with.
“My husband and I enjoy eating out,” says the 49-year-old Deans, “and we keep watching people not talking. We were at Red Robin, and there was this couple. The husband was on his phone the whole time. So if I could just encourage a thought. I’m not prohibiting cell phones. People like to be respected. It’s more of an encouragement.”
Deans’s tea room, Savor the Moment, in Battle Ground’s Old Town, is her second. She operated the first, also named Savor the Moment, in upstate New York from 2007 to 2009.
“I was writing a book, so I was in New York. I moved there because I was interviewing a lot of people (there). And back east a lot of people still have tea time. So when I called for an interview they would just say, ‘Oh, come at 1:30 for tea.’ We have to make an appointment to relax together. They just have tea at 1:30 every day. It’s not about the tea, it’s about the time. About growing together, getting to know each other. I fell in love with the time of tea.”
Deans set out to create a place where people could build relationships and find beauty in an often ugly world.
After she’d been open a few months, Leisure Magazine flew her to New York City to discuss a deal: agritourism buses stopping regularly at her tea shop.
“And there were big zeroes involved,’’ Deans said. “But I didn’t. It would have been ‘Hurry up and get out!’ And how can you rush that?”
Growing up, Deans says, she was short on almost everything — clothes, food, love. The scars from the verbal abuse are invisible, but the scars from the beatings can still be seen on her arms.
A teacher offered to intervene, Deans says, but Deans asked her not to. She wanted to stay where she could take care of her younger brother. And, in the days before mandatory reporting, the teacher agreed.
Now Deans is on a personal mission to give better than she got.
“Life’s too short,” she says. “My mom was proud of being the b-word. She was so mean to people. So rude. So short. I don’t want to do that.”
So Deans likes to give hugs to patrons.
“We all want to be loved,” she says. “And so many people tell me they haven’t had a hug in so long.”
She tries not to let the regulars get out without a hug.
“It’s kind of a joke around here,” she says. “But even the prickly ones soften.”
Deans has consciously tried to make a beautiful space as well. She says she designed the tea room to appeal to all five senses. And long-time Battle Ground residents have donated many old photographs and other items.
But some of the things came with strings attached. There is a rack of personal teacups that patrons have brought in.
“When they come in,” says Deans, “the first thing they do is go over and get their cup.”
Her favorite part of the job? Deans doesn’t hesitate.
“People! I’m not so excited to be in the kitchen. I tell them I’m quality control.”
If she had a motto, says Deans, it would be, “Kindness is a choice. There’s always a reason not to feel that way. But if you treat people well, it’ll be okay. It’s the right thing to do.”
In her spare time, Deans says, she loves to can, and loves spending time with her six grandchildren. But she doesn’t have to wait till closing time to spend time with her kids. Three of her daughters work in the shop.
“When they were growing up, I had the shop in the New York, and they would come in after school and visit with the customers. It’s special now having them working with me.” Deans looks around the shop.
“This brings me joy,” she says. “I’d rather do this than a job.” She holds out her hands as if comparing two weights. “Job, joy. Joy, job. I’ll circle joy every time.”