WENHAM — In an era when landmark Massachusetts restaurants have been forced to close for good, it was hard not to fear the same fate might befall the century-old Wenham Tea House.
After the operators shut down in June, on what was typically a busy Father's Day weekend, the members of the Wenham Village Improvement Society worried.
In the midst of a pandemic that is bringing venerable businesses to their knees, would they find another tenant to run the Tea House? And if they did, could they convince the operator to maintain the traditional English-style tea service each afternoon?
After a summer spent searching and interviewing, the answer is yes.
The nonprofit announced this week that two well-known North Shore restaurateurs are taking over operation of the Wenham Tea House, and expect to re-open it in the spring.
Brenden Crocker and Milissa Oraibi of Hamilton, the husband and wife team that own the Black Arrow in Manchester-by-the-Sea and previously owned The Old Spot in Salem and the Wild Horse Cafe in Beverly, have entered a three-year lease to run the Tea House, said Harriett Davis, president of the Wenham Village Improvement Society.
"We were so glad to get Milissa and Brendan to sign a lease with us," said Davis.
Oraibi, who grew up in Beverly, recalled going there with her mother, and the stories of her mother going there with her grandmother and aunts.
"I've always loved that location," she said.
The Tea House, which is located on Monument Street in the town center, has been in operation since 1912.
The most recent operators were forced by the pandemic to shut down in March. They re-opened briefly in the spring, but could not make the numbers work.
Davis said the society worked out an agreement with the former operators and moved forward with their search, spending the next four months interviewing more than half a dozen potential operators.
One problem: some had vastly different visions for what the restaurant would become. Another issue: financing. Some of those who were interested didn't have the financial resources to get started.
Oraibi reached out to Davis when she learned that the space would be available. And she was persistent.
Davis said Crocker and Oraibi were "manna from heaven" for the society.
"It's kind of like karma," said Oraibi. "It's meant to be."
"I see endless opportunities there," she said. Her husband, she said, took a little more convincing.
Oraibi wants to stock the Tea House's retail space with locally-created items that can't be found elsewhere.
And for the restaurant, she wants it to feel special, but not just for special occasions.
"I want it to be an experience," she said. She wants the traditional touches to remain — perhaps even making the tea a little more formal. "I want people to feel special, like you've just walked into another country. I want to transport them."
She's also excited to be part of the community, envisioning things like serving hot cocoa for holiday tree lightings.
They will serve brunch and lunch, as well as prepared foods for takeout.
"We're just so thrilled with the way everything worked out," said Davis, who said she came to appreciate just how treasured the little restaurant is on the North Shore "and what a valuable piece of property we have."
The restaurant lease helps the society support its causes, including scholarships and a summer day program for children and the Wenham Museum, as well as community events like concerts.
Oraibi is looking forward to being a part of that.
"Everyone has been so nice and so supportive," said Oraibi. "It's been overwhelming."
She said that they plan to continue running the Black Arrow as well.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.