Sharon Moore says the story of how she came to open a modern style English tearoom in Indianapolis is a good one.
“My story is ridiculously crazy,” Moore says.
It’s not so much crazy as it is magical in the way life’s pieces fell into place. In 2003, Moore moved from her native Newcastle, England, to Indianapolis to work in motorsports as a BBC television producer for Champ Car. After having her children, Max and Matilda (Tilly), she couldn’t travel as much so she began thinking about launching a new career. She contemplated what would be a good fit.
“Being from England, I was complete foodie,” Moore says, who in February of 2015 opened Tilly’s Tea Room in Fishers in a tiny house with just 35 seats. Not long thereafter, the landlord sold the building, forcing Moore to come up with an alternative plan. Fate intervened when a friend told her about an opportunity to move her business inside of Saks Fifth Avenue in Indianapolis.
“In Indiana, everyone remembers the L.S. Ayres Tea Room, so this was a nod to tradition,” Moore says. She opened Tilly’s Tea Room & Café in July of 2016. “In England, we have Harrods with the tearoom, so this seemed like a good fit.”
The elegant new location more than tripled the seating capacity. This means that it can host bridal showers, baby showers, birthday parties and corporate events. Those who are hosting parties can bring in décor or balloon arches.
“It was a blessing in disguise coming here because we would have outgrown the Fishers space so quickly,” Moore says. “Not to mention, we never would have survived COVID in that small space with the social distancing requirements.”
A lot of the bridal showers involve 30 to 50 people, birthday celebrations often have 20 attendees and networking events sometimes have 50+ people. Recently, a woman who had her baby shower at Tilly’s Tea Room last year came back to celebrate her daughter’s first birthday.
Parties typically involve an English afternoon tea complete with table runners and fine China. Guests can also partake in a full mimosa bar, champagne bar, or selection of wine. Plus, the tearoom offers a full list of hors d’oeuvres. Many of the brides will have champagne on arrival with hors d’oeuvres then seat their guests for afternoon tea.
Though there is not an official dress code at Tilly’s Tea Room, guests do tend to dress in their Sunday best.
“It’s afternoon tea. That’s what makes it special!” Moore says. “There aren’t many places you can go with a nice dress and a hat or a fascinator and not look out of place. It’s fun, elegant and stylish.”
Tilly’s Tea Room has a loyal following, with many regulars who come in with a group of friends to enjoy afternoon tea, soups, salads and paninis.
“It’s a nice, quiet place to spend a few hours and relax,” Moore says. “It’s not like a hectic coffee shop.”
Prior to the pandemic, people came in during the week for sandwiches, salads and soups with most people opting to indulge in afternoon tea on the weekends. After COVID, however, they serve many more afternoon teas than they do regular lunch menu items.
“I think people were so fed up with living in sweatpants 24/7 that they looked forward to getting dressed up and treating themselves to afternoon tea during the week and not just on the weekend, Moore says, who is currently in the process of getting FDA approval to be the only clotted cream supplier in the U.S.
Moore laughs when she describes the process.
“That sounds disgusting, but it’s not,” she says. She explains that if you went to a cream tea, your scones come with a jam or a curd. You cut your scone in the middle, then add jam followed by a dollop of clotted cream. When Moore first opened in Fishers, she wasn’t able to order the clotted cream, so she was flying it in from an English woman that had a dairy farm in North Carolina, which was an expensive endeavor. So, Moore began the process of getting the FDA approval.
“English scones aren’t like American scones,” Moore says. “English scones are dry and crumbly with sugar on top while ours is a cross between an American scone and an American biscuit.”
Moore’s favorite part of running Tilly’s Tea Room is helping people celebrate special moments in their lives. She’s committed to charity work as well, supporting Gleaners Food Bank, Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and several cancer charities.
“It’s nice to be able to help on a philanthropic level,” Moore says. She also likes to celebrate big happenings in England. For instance, when Harry and Meghan got married, Moore hosted an afternoon tea in which guests dressed up and wore their finest hats. She’s planning a similar event for King Charles’ coronation, which happens to fall on May 6, the same day as her daughter Tilly’s birthday (the tea room’s namesake).
A ridiculously crazy story, perhaps, but also very much kismet.
Tilly’s Tea Room & Café is located on the 3rd Floor of Saks Fifth Avenue in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-816-0171 or visit tillystearoom.com