Tracy Boone, a 20-year Oak Park resident and owner of Serenitea Tea Café and Boutique, 1046 Pleasant St., has been bringing hot tea and diminutive sandwiches to Oak Park for 8 years. She is taking the next few months to determine the future of her niche shop.
“This business was always supposed to be fun,” said Boone. “Now I wake up every morning and ask myself how I am going to do this.”
Prior to the pandemic Boone ran her business with a reliable team of three seasoned employees and generated the bulk of her business through a party room used for wedding and baby showers as well as tea-themed movie nights.
Cutting costs was an essential first step in coping with COVID-19 and Boone was forced to let the entirety of her staff go. As the pandemic worsened the once bustling party room sat and Boone could no longer afford to keep the space. With dining rooms shuttered she took to selling preordered sandwiches, scones, and tarts to-go.
Today Boone is the lone worker at Serenitea — arriving to bake scones at 4 a.m., serving the six customers allowed in the shop at a time, and handling all ordering, production, and sales. On some days, the shop does not see a single customer, while on others there is overwhelming demand. Boone relies on the help of friends who volunteer their time get through busy days. Unexpected spikes, however, leave Boone scrambling to keep up while working more than 60 hours per week.
“I have been asking myself how I can continue to do this, but this place is not just about money,” said Boone.” I have met people here who I consider to be family. I know all the kids who came here when they were little. I call them my tea babies.”
Boone is committed to keeping her business open through the summer before deciding if Serenitea can survive. No matter the outcome Boone is grateful for her long-time customers and the ground swell of local support during the pandemic.
“I hope to make it through,” said Boone. “If we don’t make it, I am not going to feel like I haven’t tried.”