Despite pandemic, Seymour tearoom expands to Oxford

OXFORD — A quarry on the side of Route 67 has grown in five years into the Quarry Walk, a combined residential and retail development that is still welcoming tenants.

Among the most recent is the second location for Tea With Tracy, who opened a tearoom in Seymour’s Bank Street antiques district in 2011 and held a ribbon-cutting for their Quarry Walk shop on Friday, when the co-owners drew praise for following through in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were scared to death, and we’re still scared to death,” co-owner Tracy Tenpenny said during the ceremony, “but we’re hopeful. We want to have our parties again.”

The new space gives her and her husband, Joel, room to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and to host bigger events. They signed the lease three years ago in a different world: The pandemic has forced some changes but also allowed some time to work.

“This is heroic on the part of entrepreneurs like Tracy and Joel to step up and say we’re going to do it, this is our dream, we’re going to pursue it and now’s the time,” said Bill Purcell, president of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s amazing how this has developed in the past five years.”

Development started with Newtown Savings Bank out front, the likes of Market32 and Dollar Tree, a Five Guys restaurant and a Goodwill Center.

Two more rows of shops and dining establishments are moving in around a green on the northern side of the complex, with Griffin Physicians’ medical building between them at one end of the green. Apartments are under construction behind them with occupancy planned for this year.

“This is such a great location,” State Rep. David Labriola said. “Quarry Walk has become the heart of Oxford, and Tea With Tracy is going to become the heartbeat of Oxford.”

Tracy Tenpenny said Joel wanted to run a restaurant, and she wanted a tearoom. When they opened in Seymour in 2011, “I thought I won,” she joked, but Joel got a bit of a win with the new place. Evan Mansfield, who cooks with Joel Tenpenny in the kitchen, was instrumental in getting the second location finished over the summer, she said.

It’s reminiscent of the Seymour tearoom, manager Patty Cirillo said — the paint matches, for instance. But decorative touches make it a different setting.

“Joel and I had a vision for almost a bygone-era kind of thing,” Tracy Tenpenny said, “the linen, the crystal, the kind of dimmer lights.”

Oxford First Selectman George Temple liked it: “I look around, and this is really a classy, elegant place,”

When the residences open, the vision for a walkable mini-village will have come to fruition.

“People who’re right here, not looking to go anywhere: Everything’s here, cleaners, hair salons. We have the restaurants, also the ice cream place,” Tracy Tenpenny said.

“So many possibilities can happen. Branching into the dinners now, it helps with the night life that this community is trying to build. We’re happy to be a part of it.”

Cirillo said requests for events like showers and weddings are starting to come in, and that loyal Seymour customers have been excited for the chance.

Pandemic restrictions remain in place to limit them for now, but they’re open and serving in two locations.

“Maybe the most important point, thank them for their courage,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said during the ceremony. “In the middle of a pandemic and the deepest economic crisis in our lifetime, they are stepping forward to open a new location: That’s guts. That’s fortitude and courage.

“It’s also great service and product. People love it. They have great folks working for them, and that’s the other point that I would make. In this moment of crisis, we need to put people back to work, and that’s what they’re doing.”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp