Foley's Copper Kettle TeaBar to mark 10 years in historic building

Last original Chicago Street building used to house railroad workers, now community space for diners, artists

Editorial Assistant
Posted 6/12/24

FOLEY — The Copper Kettle TeaBar in Foley has been steeping success and brewing community spirit for a decade. Co-owners and sisters Robin Peters and Susan Adams have poured their hearts into …

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Foley's Copper Kettle TeaBar to mark 10 years in historic building

Last original Chicago Street building used to house railroad workers, now community space for diners, artists


FOLEY — The Copper Kettle TeaBar in Foley has been steeping success and brewing community spirit for a decade.

Co-owners and sisters Robin Peters and Susan Adams have poured their hearts into every cup, creating a haven for tea enthusiasts.

As they celebrate their 10th anniversary, one can't help but wonder: What's the secret ingredient that's kept their teapot boiling for so long? Luckily, the sisters have spilled the tea with Gulf Coast Media.

Brewing beginnings

The Copper Kettle TeaBar opened in 2014.

"In the dead heat of the summer," Peters said.

However, the Copper Kettle was not the sisters' first experience with a tea setting in Foley.

The sisters, natives of Michigan, first encountered Foley while vacationing in Gulf Shores. After days on the beach, they came to Foley looking to explore a small-town vibe and discovered Two Sassy Cups Tea Room. They loved it.

"You got to come off the beach and get the culture of the small town of Foley, which was a small town at that time, and experience something where you slowed down," Peters said.

The Michigan sisters moved to Foley in 2003. They reopened Two Sassy Cups in 2005, but the run was short.

"We loved what happened with the first (tearoom). It was very different than this one, but we saw how important it was to everybody. Those moments of making memories and having a place to serve people, so we always knew we were going to open up another one," Peters said.

Finding the right location for their next spot was important. According to the sisters, a strip mall isn't the best for a tearoom.

Were they found provides the intimate setting the sisters were looking for, combined with a beautiful downtown complete with Heritage Park right out the front door. Plus, the building holds history.

"It worked out because the owners were history buffs, and what he wanted to do was to preserve (the building’s history)," Peters said.

The building is the last original structure on Chicago Street from the early 1900s. It housed railroad workers in the 1930s and was later a private residence. While the inside is small and can accommodate up to 25 people, they offer alfresco dining under the oaks, which makes a lovely setting for relaxing, birthday parties and enjoying the park.

In 2014, the duo opened the Copper Kettle TeaBar.

Since opening the doors, the tearoom has won several awards. Along with winning several Best of Baldwin awards over the years, the Copper Kettle has been voted People's Choice in 2019 and being honored as one of the 10,000 Small Businesses by Goldman Sachs and Babson College. Additionally, it was voted Best Local Business in 2021.

A perfect blend

While Adams and Peters are sisters, they had never worked together, but they knew what they wanted to do and also what Foley was missing after the closure of Two Sassy Cups.

"We thought, ‘We can do this. We're sisters. We can figure it out,’" Adams said.

At the Copper Kettle, Peters may be the one you meet first, as she can help you find the perfect tea.

The Copper Kettle has over 100 types of tea from all over the world. Each of these teas can be served hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened, with milk or cream, with fruit added and more, making thousands of possible combinations.

My recommendation is the Lapsang Souchong (also known as Smaug’s Breath at the Copper Kettle), a smoky, deep black tea that smells and tastes a bit like you are drinking a smoldering campfire. It might sound odd, but it is delicious with a bit of cream and a pinch of sugar.

"I always stick to the honeybush and the rooibos, maybe a nice oolong in the evening, but honeybush and rooibos all the way," Adams said.

"I’m a black tea drinker, and I’ve stayed true to that. I mean, I’ve loved all of them at some point, but mostly you’re going to find every day I’m going to have my golden Yunnan," Peters said.

If you are looking for lunch, that is where you’ll find Adams. Typically, she is in the back cooking up something fabulous. The menu is another fun surprise at the Copper Kettle, as it is constantly changing. But if you find something you absolutely love, it will return to the menu.

Different soups, sandwiches, salads and more are on the menu, which is often posted on the Copper Kettle Tea Bar Facebook page.

"People tell us what they like and what they want to see on the menu, they really do," Adams said. "But we just change."

"But hands down, she still has people calling, almost irate, if she doesn’t have it — the cheeseburger soup," Peters said.

Tea for two (or more)

If you ask either sister, they will tell you the Copper Kettle is also a community experience.

"We have people who sit here from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., our entire open hours," Adams said.

Inside, you will find various mediums of art hanging around. These pieces are done by community members who gift items to the Copper Kettle. Some artists find a place to sell their work they couldn’t find otherwise. Musicians stop by and offer to play. Theater groups practice performances, and they all donate their time and energy to entertain other guests.

While the sisters appreciate and enjoy these artists, they don’t ask for it. The Copper Kettle offers artists a place to perform and share their work and somewhere they feel comfortable doing so. In exchange, they often get a meal on the house.

"I’m not getting them to do things for free. I’m giving them a place where they can enjoy doing what they love to do, and people enjoy it," Robin said. "Everybody here is so appreciative, starting with us, of people that contribute something, and it opens doors for them. It just opens doors, because you’re doing it for the right reasons. And that’s building community. That’s what it’s about," Peters said.

And of course, the customers are the reason the Copper Kettle is what it is.

"We get a lot of really talented people who come in here, and they give us great ideas," Adams said.

Many customers are repeat visitors who stop by weekly for lunch or afternoon tea. Some reserve space for high tea events or attend one hosted by the tearoom, such as the upcoming Lord of the Rings Tea in honor of the 10th anniversary.

"The whole community knows about us, and they pass it along, which I really love," Adams said.

Chipped cups

The Copper Kettle champions small and local businesses, collaborating with other small businesses when possible and promoting them, including the newspaper you are reading.

A Facebook post from the Copper Kettle Tea Bar on June 18, 2016, read: "A new study gives incredible evidence that reading the #FoleyOnlooker in the park while drinking tea from #copperkettleteabar is shown to lower blood pressure and make people feel really happy. (For your convenience, we have The Onlooker, the tea and the park!)"

However, as any business owner knows, there are always hurdles and challenges to face, and the Copper Kettle is no exception.

In the context of small business, Peters noted the swift changes driven by technology and Foley's evolution from a small town to a rapidly expanding area. This dynamic environment poses ongoing challenges in keeping up with emerging trends and staying competitive.

"Just keeping up with the challenges of how do we market..." Peters said.

"And the tech," Adams added.

"Yeah, the technology," Peters said.

The sisters also stated that with a steady flow of new residents and visitors, attracting and retaining customers remains a constant struggle.

"We do a lot of mouth marketing. Like, everywhere I go, I’m talking. I’m making friends, too, but they all know I have a tea shop," Adams said.

Sips of wisdom

We asked Adams and Peters to offer some advice for others looking to start their own small business.

"Small business is exhausting, I'm not going to lie," Peters said. "It's exhausting."

"I mean, we work," Adams added. "We've worked hard."

But the sisters agree it is worth it as long as you have a plan and know why you want to open a small business.

"Really know why you want to do this," Peters said. "And think about the cost of it, both to you personally and financially."

Peters also noted that before diving into entrepreneurship, it's wise to gain hands-on experience by working for or shadowing someone in the field.

She also said it's essential to assess your community's needs, as opening a great business at the wrong time or in the wrong area can lead to challenges.

For example, Peters mentioned how the Copper Kettle is not a typical tea room. She said while that would have worked in New York, it doesn’t suit the vibe of Baldwin County.

"I think the hardest thing is marketing your stuff so people know what you have, because how many years have we been here and locals come in and say, 'I didn’t know you were here,'" Peters said.

Steeping into the future

So, what’s next on the menu for the Copper Kettle?

"We’ve brought back our Friday nights now, so we’re trying to keep activities rotating. We do a crafting night one Friday. We do a specialty food night, like crepes or fondue. And then we try to do a tea tasting once a month. And then we just have a fun open game night," Peters said.

For fans of the tea events, such as the upcoming Lord of the Rings Tea, which sold out in about 15 days, you may not be getting quite the same tea events in the future.

"We’re going to try after this year to move from doing such big events to smaller events," Peters said.

According to the sisters, they plan to have more fairy teas for children among other ideas.

"We’re starting to get too big for those events. So, what I think you are going to see us going into is taking those events that we love and knocking them back down to less huge events, and just moments. Like 'hey guys, we’re going to have Lord of the Rings week,'" Peters said.