Owner Kim Arney has worked for 10 years to fill a niche for the Roanoke Valley. Her move to a new building in Salem is just the right location to continue her pattern of expansions.
When considering all the stuffy traditions we Americans wriggled our way free from when declaring our independence from British rule, there is one tradition I loathe the death of: afternoon tea. In fact, that fated night in Boston was probably the catalyst to ending America’s tea-totaling habits. Sometimes I wish our rebel forefathers could have found something else to dump into the ocean rather than tea.
Fortunately, for Roanokers, all is not lost. For over 10 years now, Kim Arney has been reviving the tradition of tea through the White Oak Tea Tavern.
Arney, a long-time resident of Botetourt County, began her career doing clerical work for Community Hospital in Roanoke. After 16 years, she left to work closer to home in Fincastle for the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. Arney says at this point in her career she was tired. She needed a reprieve. Providentially, she was offered the opportunity to cater several events for different friends. Her name spread. For four years she ran her own catering business.
“I worked hard,” recalls Arney, her petite frame squared and leaned in. “It was very physical and I was going all over.”
While Arney was working at catering and wondering how long she could maintain the pace, a friend from church was creating White Oak Tea Tavern. The friend owned it just over a year before asking Arney if she would be interested in taking it over.
“We say, she gave birth to it, and I adopted it,” laughs Arney of the easy decision to purchase the White Oak Tea Company and make it her own.
In her decade of ownership, Arney has changed everything from the front gift shop, to the recipes on the lunch menu, to the teas themselves. She says when she expanded the tavern’s restaurant side, business grew. So much so, that White Oak Tea Tavern overwhelmed its location: the old Cloyd House built in the late 1700s. Something had to give as business was beginning to suffer. Yet, Arney wasn’t looking to expand, either. “I have grandchildren…I was praying for God to send Starbucks to come and buy me out.” Arney smirks at her admission.
God did not send Starbucks. Instead, he sent the Salem Historical Society. The Society needed just the right business tenant to occupy the Preston House—Salem’s oldest home—and Arney needed just the right location for the Tea Tavern to thrive. Turns out White Oak Tea Tavern is expanding after all.
White Oak Tea Tavern is a destination dining experience. Arney believes her “trade secrets”—menu items and ingredients that cannot be found elsewhere—are a primary reason for its popularity. “I’m not going to sell anything here that you can get anywhere else. Everything here is unique.”