BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Gretchen Fayerweather’s love for cooking began at a very young age.
When she was just 4 years old, her mother let her bake alongside of her at a small table in the family kitchen.
“My mom was always very liberal with my brother and I in the kitchen, and I would make strawberry shortcake,” she said.
That love for cooking blossomed into a career for Gretchen, who recently purchased Clara J’s Tea Room and Neapolitan Gift Shop in uptown Maumee.
“I love the atmosphere, I feel comfortable and welcome every time I come in the door. The staff does an amazing job making you feel welcome and that you are home,” she said.
Gretchen attended Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, where she received her culinary degree. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in education.
She has spent the last 11 years working as a professor at Owens Community College in the field of culinary arts, hospitality management and dietetic technology.
“I liked training and working with co-op students,” she said.
In that work, Gretchen connected with former Clara J’s owner Rebecca Jaessing. The two had met 10 years ago, and Gretchen spent many summers working at Clara J’s.
“Rebecca has been a wonderful mentor,” she said.
Rebecca has remained on staff, assisting Gretchen with the transition, but she plans to eventually retire.
Gretchen and her husband John Polkinghorn purchased the building in November 2017, and then purchased the business in September of this year.
“I am so lucky to have an amazing staff that has supported the transition with open arms and minds,” she said.
While many of the signature items on the tea room menu will remain the same, such as the ribbon sandwich, Gretchen plans to introduce new seasonal items and special desserts such as a chocolate teacup with peanut butter mousse.
“I like celebrating food and trying new things,” she said. “Chefs are being more creative and more daring so chefs can be adventurous with their food.”
She also enjoys eating a variety of foods, so when Gretchen goes to a restaurant, she usually skips the entrée and opts for multiple appetizers instead.
“I think that’s partly what attracted me to Clara J’s. You get these three tiers of food, so you get to enjoy all these different flavors and the first bite doesn’t taste just like the last bite. I just love that,” she said.
Gretchen is making changes to the business. She plans to eliminate the items in the gift shop area to add more seating. She has also transformed the second floor into a bed and breakfast called Suite T B&B.
“People staying there can have breakfast delivered to them in the morning or have a discounted meal in the tea room. We also have tea and a coffee machine in the room, plus a small refrigerator,” she said.
Gretchen looks forwarding to continuing the longstanding practice of serving delicious food in the time-honored tradition of high tea – a unique combination in uptown Maumee. She also plans to continue hosting special themed teas, such as those in tribute of Harry Potter and The Polar Express. She would also like to add community events to the venue, such as a children’s story time.
“Regardless of who you are or what your tastes are – Clara J’s is open to anyone and everyone,” she said.