Words: Katie Lew
Images: Kelly Fisher
The word community enters the conversation frequently when talking to Tom and Diane Wisdom, proprietors of Wisdom Tea House in Monument. They are excited about the tight-knit group of merchants in downtown Monument, the wonderful staff that makes their café run so smoothly and the loyal customers who make their job worthwhile. The couple is obviously committed to bringing people together, in all aspects of running their business.
“Having a building, a business, a place, food and drink that creates an environment where people are comfortable and have conversations, strengthen their relationships: that’s why we opened the tea house,” Diane said. “It didn’t surprise us that that happened, but it exceeded our expectations. That’s the thing that really keeps us going.”
Tom echoes this excitement.
“It’s really rewarding when people tell us, ‘I don’t know where we went before,’ and it really has become a gathering spot for the community,” he said.
Creating a space for people to gather and connect has always been at the heart of the Wisdoms’ vision for their café, although the original idea was more coffee shop than tea house. Tom first became interested in coffee while attending graduate school in Berkeley in the early ’80s.
“That was right when the coffee boom was really starting and everyone was walking around with Styrofoam cups of coffee and I loved it,” Tom said.
Both Tom and Diane started their careers working in the San Francisco bay area and moved to Colorado in the ’80s with Hewlett Packard. After Tom started his own small tech company, and then selling it several years later, Tom and Diane decided they wanted to try their hand at a completely new type of business and Tom’s passion for coffee made the choice obvious. He even took a job as a barista, at a small coffee shop in Palmer Lake, to learn the ropes.
There was only one problem.
“After we bought the building, we realized Monument really doesn’t need another coffee house,” said Tom. “So Diane said, ‘What about doing a tea house?’”.
After extensive renovations to the 1890 building, Wisdom Tea house opened its doors in April 2008.
The couple had visited many tea shops while traveling, and these experiences gave them a good idea of the feel they wanted, and what they wanted to avoid.
“I promised him, no lace, no gingham, no ruffles, no pink!”Diane said, laughing.
Instead, after consulting a friend who is an artist, contractor and architecture enthusiast, they decided to return the building to its original look: the clean, simple lines of the territorial architectural style. As for the interior, they were focused on showcasing local art. Diane said the idea of displaying work by local artists was part of their original vision. They knew that they wanted to create a blank canvas for the art to really pop. The art rails went in early on and the lighting for the art was very important to the Wisdoms. Their commitment to displaying local artists even dictated the paint color that they chose for the walls.
“It took us forever to pick a paint color that would look really warm and yet not overwhelm the art,” Tomsaid. “Now it’s a custom paint color that you can order at the paint store. It’s called “Wisdom Cream” I think and we get people asking for the color all the time.”
What they hadn’t realized, when switching from a coffee shop to a tea shop, was how much more food they would be expected to provide. After starting with a small menu of a few pastries, soups and salads, they soon realized that they would need a bigger selection.
“Monument needed another good, casual lunch place and people just started pouring in here at lunch time,” Tom said.
After using a few part-time cooks and caterers, Diane decided to create the menu herself. She now plans the menu, in addition to doing all the baking. “Everything but the bread is made right here, in house,” explained Tom. “Diane is the executive chef and chief baker.”
“I have no formal culinary training at all, but I love to bake and always have,” Diane added quickly. “I am so blessed to have a kitchen staff that does a fantastic job of running the line and producing the breakfast and lunch items and they support me in getting my baking done.”
Their best-selling item is still the chicken salad, which was part of their original menu, and a recipe developed by their first part-time cook. But that doesn’t mean the menu hasn’t changed over time. Diane said they started taking note of the gluten-free trend about three years ago.
“I was fortunate to find a great gluten-free lemon cake recipe that is olive oil based,” Diane said. “That’s really popular. And then we experimented with a gluten-free scone. So we always have a scone and dessert for anyone who is gluten-free.”
In addition to running the tea shop, a six-days-a-week job, Tom and Diane are also deeply involved in the Monument community. They are especially connected to the Historic Monument Merchants Association, a group of local business and restaurant owners who meet once a month to plan events and support each other. One of the biggest events of the year is the monthly Art Hops, held on the third Thursday of the month during the summer.
“The whole town comes out for the art walk,” Tom said. “All the merchants have special events and sales going on.”
Wisdom Tea House stays open late on these evenings, and often has live music playing on the patio.
In the seven years Wisdom Tea House has been open, the couple have experimented extensively with the menu, hours and feel of the shop. They made homemade gelato for several years, extended their hours to stay open for dinner and tried holding independent film screenings and concerts. However, they only recently feel like they’ve finally found a balance that feels right for their business.
“As we’ve gotten older, we’ve decided to set some things aside, like the gelato,” explained Diane. “We’re both perfectionists, and tend to always try to do things better. But I’m kind of at the point of thinking, ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’.”
Tom agreed that they seem to have found what works best for them.
“I think we’ve learned, as we’ve tried and experimented with a lot of things and we’ve kind of found our niche as a breakfast, lunch place and a gathering place for the community during the day,” he said. “I feel like we’ve honed in on our strengths.”
Diane said there is one question they get asked sometimes that used to offend her but now makes her feel proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“Every once in awhile, a customer will walk in and ask, ‘Is this a franchise?’, and part of me is a little offended because we’ve worked hard to make this place individual and special,” she said. “But the other half of me realizes that franchises are usually considered well-run, with consistent quality, so I take it as a compliment, after I get over my initial reaction.”
There are few locally owned eateries as efficient and consistently run as The Wisdom Tea house. However, it is the warmth of the cozy rooms and the indulgent homemade treats that will continue to make Wisdom Tea House an important part of the Monument community for many years to come.
Wisdom Tea House
65 2nd Street