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We have a date!

View from front

I have been avoiding e-mail, phone calls and even in-person visits because I know the question I will be asked is, “When are you opening?” I have wanted to know the answer to this myself for many months, but I haven’t been able to predict it because of so many unknown variables. Things are finally starting to change, and the time has come where we feel comfortable setting a soft opening date for Monday, October 22. I’m calling it a soft opening because I’m only notifying my friends, family and Lovescool readers about the date, not the general media. We still want a couple weeks to work out the kinks before we have our “grand” opening, although any opening feels grand to me.

I was originally hoping to open in August, so we are about 2-3 months behind schedule. In the New York City food world this doesn’t seem like much time, but it has added a great deal of stress since we still have to pay for rent, insurance and many other miscellaneous expenses. I believe the delay is primarily because things just take so much longer than I expect, and Andrew and I have virtually no experience opening a retail shop. Everything from finishing construction to finding the cups for tea took about 3 times longer than I planned for. There is so much to decide that it takes a long time to wrap my head around what needs to be done and get things right.

The other major reason for the delay in opening is an array of technical difficulties. If I could do it over again I would invest more money in new equipment. I bought most of my equipment used from a restaurant supply store on Bowery in Manhattan. The shop was referred to me by two separate small business owners that I trust. Unfortunately, things seem to have changed at this shop and they provided terrible equipment with incompetent service. This shop gave me 2 broken dishwashers, 2 broken refrigerators and an oven that caught fire. Replacing these items has taken over 2 months, and I’m still not done. We did get a new Blodgett Mark V oven, but I can’t use it yet. It is currently acting as a very expensive shelf in the kitchen. The new oven they gave me has a control panel that is configured to only work for preset fast food cooking, and I have to replace the automatic electronic panel with a manual control to override it. All I want to do is turn the oven on, set a temperature and leave it on until I’m done baking, and this oven can’t do that. I had no idea this was even possible from an oven, but unfortunately, it is. Luckily we have a back-up oven on the ground floor that we can use in the meantime. We have also had five visits from the refrigerator repairman and we still haven’t been able to get one of our refrigerators to hold at 40 degrees or below. I think we got the final fix today, but it will be another 24 hours before I’m comfortable that the problem is really solved.

Aside from the technical difficulties, I am very happy with the way things are going. The store looks beautiful, the products taste great, and the people I have been working with are the best I could ever ask for.

Andrew has been working hard on designing, and then building, the store. Our contractor, Full Circle Construction, did the major electrical, plumbing and structural work, but Andrew did almost all of the rest. He tore down walls, built our display cases, installed our sound system, and just about everything else. It was his vision that really led the design of the store. He chose colors and materials that are meant to fall to the background and let the products and people in front of it shine. There is a lot of grey, black and beige, along with stone and wood materials. I like to think of it like a cave, where it’s calm, cool and inviting.

View from behind the counter
View from behind the counter.

Product shelf and chair
One of our chairs next to the product shelf.

Wallpaper and Sconce in the Back Room
Wallpaper and sconce in the back seating area.

It has taken a long time to finish since the store was in bad shape when we got it, but the main man over at Full Circle Construction, Lop, and his office have been a pleasure to work with. Our great friends and family have also helped us paint, assemble, and get everything to the point it’s at today. It will soon be time to return those favors with large amounts of tea and sweets. Lop now stops by the store and demands donuts as payback for all of his work. I owe him much more than a donut for all of the extras he’s done for us, but for now he’ll have to settle for a Matcha scone or go down to Dunkin’ Donuts for a fix.

Queenie, our new sales manager, and Sara, our new head baker, have also been at the store every day for the past month helping Andrew and I get the store ready. Queenie comes from a culinary and tea background and has a vast amount of knowledge to add to Amai. She keeps me organized with color-coded file folders, Excel spreadsheets, and lots of cleaning. Her sense of humor (and knack for singing commercial jingles) also cracks me up and keeps the day moving quickly.

Lara, the wonderful baker I have been working with for the past year, decided to pursue her personal training career full-time, so I went on a search for a new baker to help me at the store. I met Sara through mutual friends, and she is the perfect seasonal-fruit loving, detail oriented, passionate chef I was looking for. She has already added delicious creations to the menu like Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, Dyson Chocolate Chip Cookies (with 99%, 70% and 54% chocolate and nibs), Sweet Potato Conversation Tarts, Matcha Scones, Lavender Butter, Honey Butter, and much more. We also have a strong team of baking assistants, baristas and cleaning crew assembled that make this place run as best as it can under this novice bakery owner, and I feel very lucky.

Our teas and products are already up on the shelf, and our coffee comes in next week. Queenie helped me choose approximately 40 loose leaf teas to start with, and we’ll be growing our menu over the next few months. For tea, we chose to work with wide range of vendors, each with their own specialty. For example, most of our Japanese tea comes from Ito-En, classic teas from Red & Green Company, Serendipitea and Tao of Tea, modern mixes from Art of Tea and Tavalon, tea bags from Two Leaves and a Bud, etc.

We’ll also be serving coffee from Counter Culture Coffee, a company “dedicated to fair, democratic principles, sustainable agriculture, and the cultivation of the highest quality coffees imaginable”. Many tea purists may wonder why we’ll be serving coffee in the store, but for me it was an easy decision. I believe Counter Culture Coffee says it best on their website by describing coffee as “a connective force that has the potential to bring out the best in people.” I believe coffee, tea and sweets all have this effect, making them a natural offering together in the store. Coffee will never be our main focus, but we still want to offer a quality variety.

Next week we’ll be doing staff training and finishing the details of the menu. Barring any unforseen catastrophe, we will be open on October 22. I hope to see you there!

Amai Tea & Bake House
Opening Monday, October 22, 2007
171 3rd Avenue (between 16th and 17th Street)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 863-9630 phone
Store Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 7am to 7pm
Friday: 7am to 9pm
Saturday: 9am to 9pm
Sunday: 9am to 7pm


Sophie says on October 14th, 2007 at 4:16 am:

Yay – congratulations! The interior looks beautiful. Good luck for the opening – I have read all about your cakes on Keiko’s site and would love to drop in but its a bit of a long way from England…

evan says on October 14th, 2007 at 10:58 am:

Congratulations. The interior looks awesome (a great place to step inside and eats some sweets and tea as luck would have it). I am definitely going next time I am in NYC.

Evan (aka Conifer Research guy)

Marc says on October 14th, 2007 at 2:43 pm:

Congrats! It looks like a lot of work has been put into this endeavor. :) And I’m glad it will be open when I go to NY in November! :D

Kelli says on October 14th, 2007 at 2:54 pm:

Thank you guys! I really appreciate the support.

Ray says on October 14th, 2007 at 7:08 pm:

Boy, I sure hope you will be serving select flavors of snapple :) Good luck, Kel!!!

keiko says on October 14th, 2007 at 7:13 pm:

Congratulations Kelli, Andrew and all the Amai staff! Having seen the beautiful store myself, I have no doubts you’re going to do a great job (and the opening day is my birthday :) ) – I can’t wait to go back, very best of luck! kxx

Debbie says on October 14th, 2007 at 7:34 pm:

The store is beautiful. The two of you have put so much of yourselves into this and with excellent Amai staff, it’s a winning combo. I can’t wait for Amai 2 to hit the West coast!

Laurie says on October 14th, 2007 at 7:34 pm:

Well, I must say it sounds like you & Andrew are an unbeatable team! The BIG DAY is almost here & I couldn’t be more thrilled or excited for you…

I will definitely be keeping track of what’s to come! :-)

Carol says on October 14th, 2007 at 9:03 pm:

Congrats!! Looks fabulous! Guess I’ll have to plan another trip down from Amherst before too long. Love that “tea” cabinet :-)

sara says on October 15th, 2007 at 7:11 am:

I am so looking forward to visiting your store. I’ll be there next Monday come hell or high water!!!

Jee says on October 15th, 2007 at 9:35 am:

I’m so excited for you guys! I’ll be there on Oct. 22nd!

Malini says on October 15th, 2007 at 11:25 am:

Yoohoo! The place looks cozy and inviting. Great Job Kelli.

Wishing you all the best.

Mariko says on October 15th, 2007 at 11:27 am:

Congratulations! It’s been a long time coming, but it will all be worth it. I am starting to think about the NYC Marathon 2008, and if it happens, I am SO going to be at your bakery!

Clarice says on October 15th, 2007 at 1:34 pm:

You guys have come a long way, even since I last visted! Congratulations on your “soft opening,” I can’t wait to see the finished store! Way to go!

Marichelle says on October 15th, 2007 at 9:25 pm:

Can’t wait! I love your tea cookies and was happy to see them at the Amish market and Tavalon. I live in the area, so I’ll definitely be stopping by. Congratulations!!!

Oishii Eats says on October 15th, 2007 at 11:49 pm:

Cheering for you and the Amai family all the way from LA!!!

kate says on October 16th, 2007 at 4:27 pm:

oh your place looks fantastic ! wish u all the luck and success , and hope your place does exceptional well.Wish i was there to drop by .

Lara says on October 16th, 2007 at 8:41 pm:

How exciting!! I can’t wait for the doors to open! It has been more than a pleasure to be your baker for the past year, and I only wish you continued success. I’m just a bit jealous of the new kitchen though…after all of our laborious days in LIC! ;) Although, I don’t think I would pass up that experience for anything. Just expect to see alot of me around there…you know that’s why you had to carry coffee!! And you know that I’m always here if you need anything at all.
Can’t wait for Monday…

Vivian says on October 17th, 2007 at 10:20 am:

CONGRATS!!! I’m so happy for you! All your hard work and efforts have paid off…and the place (from your little sneak peak) looks fantastic! Wishing you much success. Hope to make it down next Monday! :)

Jacquie says on October 17th, 2007 at 4:59 pm:

Congratulations to you and the whole Amai team Kelli! It must be so exciting see all of your hard work coming into fruition. I’m so happy for you and wish you nothing but success! I plan to stop by on Monday during my lunch break and hope to see you then :)

becky says on October 17th, 2007 at 9:37 pm:

congratulations! the store looks great. i can’t wait to visit next time i’m in nyc ^_^

MasPinaSarap says on October 17th, 2007 at 9:43 pm:

It is hard to believe that I started reading the blog with you testing out Champagne brownie recipes and now you’re opening your own store! So happy for you!

Lissa says on October 18th, 2007 at 12:44 pm:

Congratulations to you and Andrew! I can’t wait to stop by and see the store and everyone there :)
Best of luck!

Kristin says on October 19th, 2007 at 2:12 pm:

Yay! Very exciting…let me know how the first day goes! Good luck!

AMAI OPENING « One Sweet World says on October 21st, 2007 at 10:10 pm:

[...] AMAI OPENING The BIG day has finally come for Amai…the Tea & Bake House will open it’s doors tomorrow!  Although, I have stepped down as CBO, I am so thrilled for Kelli, Andrew and the rest of the Amai gang.  It has been a pleasure working with Kelli over the past year, and I am so happy that I was able to be a part of it’s early days.  Now, I’m excited to watch her dream and vision continue to flourish in it’s new home.  [...]

Dixon says on October 22nd, 2007 at 10:30 am:

Hey, this is great news. Congradulations. Let me know when I can bring the design gang from TII down for some user testing and sweat teats.

sebastian says on October 22nd, 2007 at 1:49 pm:

was there this morning – loved the offerings and decor of the shop. the pastries remind me of japanese bakeries because of the meticulousness and size of the goods. the pear muffin was yummy. congratulations to you on a dream fulfilled!

Marc says on October 22nd, 2007 at 5:23 pm:

How did the soft opening go? :)

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Lovescool is the documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new.

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An interest, that turned into a blog, that turned into a career. Kelli Bernard is now the owner and baker of Amai Tea & Bake House.

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