The Old Town Grainery building has been an iconic landmark in downtown Mount Vernon since the early 1900s. Now utilized commercially by local businesses including Il Granaio and The Old Town Grainery Tea Room, the building maintains much of its historic charm. The building was originally constructed as a feed and seed cooperative for Alf Christianson Seed Company, now Sakata Seed America. After decades as a functioning granary, the building sat unused for several years—except for the pigeons who occupied the tower—before it was bought by the Ware family in 1996.
An unmistakable part of the Mount Vernon cityscape, the building was incorporated into the city’s official logo in 1998 while it was being refurbished into a commercial space. By March 1999, the Old Town Grainery became home to a restaurant, gallery, home furnishing store, coffee shop, clothing store and more. The Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce occupied a space on the second floor for several years in the early 2000s. The Italian restaurant, Il Granaio, opened in 2001 and has been there ever since. Larry and Marianne Stickles purchased the building from the Ware family in 2002 and continued to lease spaces to local businesses and professionals for conferences and meetings.
The Beginnings of the Old Town Grainery Tea Room
In the Fall of 2013, The Old Town Grainery Tea Room was founded by Sharon and George Eldridge. The couple had a specific vision of what they wanted to create: A quiet space where people could come enjoy each other’s company. They filled the space with personal touches including their own antiques passed down from George’s father. After about four years of running the Tea Room, the couple was ready to retire and sold the business to current owner, Jenni Belisle, in January 2018.
Jenni’s family has lived in Skagit Valley for generations, her grandparents were dairy farmers. After a difficult partnership at another local restaurant, she jumped on the opportunity when the Old Town Grainery Tea Room became available. “When my kids were little, I have two girls, they’re 18 and 21 now, we did a lot of tea parties,” says Jenni. “We would go to tea and started hosting tea parties ourselves, and then it became a tradition with my grandmother and my mom for their birthdays. I wanted to create a space for creating memories and traditions like we used to.”
The Tea Room offers about 45 different tea blends, mostly from The Jasmine Pearl Tea Company out of Portland. Jasmine Pearl creates their own unique blends, sourcing their teas from all over the world. The Tea Room recently introduced several new blends from The Spice Hut, a Bellingham tea company specializing in Chai tea. “We have a lot of blends that go with English tea,” says Jenni. “They tend to be on the sweeter side, but there’s something for every palate.”
For Jenni, the perfect cup of tea is a Black Wolf with milk and a dash of sugar—sweet but not too sweet. Black Wolf is an earthy puerh tea grown in mountainous China. With rosehips, peppercorns, elderberry, blackberry, sweet honeybush and vanilla, this tea has a fruity, chocolatey finish.
In her years of tea parties and taking over The Tea Room, Jenni has learned a lot about tea as an art form. “Learning about temperature is very important,” says Jenni. “Considering the type of tea you have, whether it’s green tea, black tea or white tea, steeping temperature is key. In America we tend to think we want the water boiling which is not true. Black teas and rooibos can handle it, but others cannot. Green and white teas are more delicate so you don’t want the water too hot and don’t let it steep too long—they can get bitter. Black tea should steep for three to five minutes, green tea should steep for a max of three minutes and rooibos you can leave in.”
Outside the teacup, the Old Town Grainery Tea Room offers a full spread of traditional English tea treats, all made fresh in-house daily. Their baker was self-taught and loves to bake, with a special passion for decorating their custom cookies, cakes and cupcakes for special events. “We offer a typical English tearoom menu, including soups, salads, tea sandwiches, scones and desserts,” says Jenni.
You can order single items a la carte or opt for a full spread, with the Queens Tea being the most extravagant at $34 per person. Jenni’s personal favorite menu offering is the salads. They have a broccoli garbanzo bean salad, a watermelon salad with feta, and the house salad with strawberries, mixed greens, feta, almonds and their in-house poppyseed dressing. The house salad is the most popular among guests.
Aside from the usual afternoon tea crowd, Jenni has stepped it up a notch to host more events, getting the younger generation involved in the tea experience. “We do a lot of Princess Tea Parties, collaborating with local companies including Enchanting Events, A Dash of Adorable and Enjoy the Party,” says Jenni. “They provide a magical experience with décor and live princess characters. We try to do those about twice a month. We’re known as a destination celebration kind of place.” In the past, the Old Town Grainery Tea Room had a Mary Poppins Tea Party, which they plan on doing again, as well as more teas coinciding with popular movies that fit the tea theme.
Although the Old Town Grainery building was recently sold to new owners, you can expect the Old Town Grainery Tea Room to continue serving afternoon tea, hosting special events and making magical memories for years to come. Find out about upcoming themed teas and more on the Old Town Grainery Tea Room’s website and Facebook.
Tea time, anyone?
Old Town Grainery Tea Room
100 E Montgomery Street, Mount Vernon