Antiques and international cuisine. Who knew they could blend together so well to create such a calm, cozy and welcoming atmosphere in a historic boarding house? Mason Steele and Carla Welsh knew. Steele is an antique collector of over 30 years, and with a nudge from Welsh, the two decided to open The Boarding House Treasures & Tea Room located on Ellison Street at the corner of West Patterson Street in historic Hope Mills.
Welsh, owner and chef, traveled all over the world as an airline flight attendant with Pan American World Airways for 21 years and has brought back delicious cuisines from across the globe – Africa, the Mediterranean and India, just to name a few.
“I like to entertain, and I like to share the recipes that I’ve learned,” Welsh said, explaining why she took an interest in restaurant management and later in owning one.
Welsh said she likes to recreate the recipes from her memories of her travels around the world. She is passionate about what she does and loves to see others enjoy her food. She changes the menu the first and third week of the month.
Steele noted that Cumberland County is an international county due to the armed forces, and the restaurant will help cater to the many different cultures while allowing people to learn the various styles of cuisine that many may call different but some will call home-cooking.
Steele and Welsh are both ServSafe certified, which means they have taken training courses for food and alcohol safety.
Welsh said, “We receive a lot of donations; beautiful donations,” as she was pointing to different china tea pots and other dishes. Mayor Jackie Warner has donated, along with others within the community.
Steele said, “It’s a pleasure when you see people like Pat Hall and other guests bring in a gift.” Both Steele and Welsh are involved with the local government and strive to help make the community better for themselves and others to enjoy. Steele is also a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.
Why is this location?
The Boarding House Treasures and Tea Room used to be a boarding house for the workers of Mill #4. It was built in 1907, and Steele and Welsh have remodeled the building while honoring its historic heritage.
Welsh explained that one reason they chose this spot is because “you can get out of the traffic and come here. You have an intimate ‘getaway’ for two people of your family.”
Steele retired in 2013 and walked by the building every day. He got excited when he saw a man placing a “For Sale by Owner” sign in the yard. Steele was looking for a place because he was a vendor in downtown Fayetteville at the Cotton Exchange and The Livery, but there was not enough room for his collections. He even went across the street to Lode Stone Art and Antiques and still did not have enough room.
“I called Carla and talked to her about joining me to make this into a tea room,” he explained.
Welsh said she knew this market would not support just a tea room. “You have to have a variety of foods, including the meat and potatoes,” she said.
“I had a lot of things. Well, not a lot, but a fair amount of things,” Steele claimed while Welsh jokingly stared at him, indicating that he indeed had a lot of things. “I needed to downsize, and being part of this has helped. That was the main purpose.”
Steele also said that by opening the business in the century-old home, he and Welsh were saving the home from being demolished. The home is mentioned with the mill houses in the National Registry. The house belonged to Mill #4 until 1954 when it was bought by Fred and Elizabeth Taylor. Welsh said the physician for the Taylor family, who is now in his 90s, came to have low tea (tea served with desserts on fine china), and they were honored to have served him. Steele and Welsh excitedly spoke of a guest who came and told them of the time he was a
boarder and mill worker at the young age of 16. They told of various guests that frequent their tea room and how they enjoy getting to know each person that comes.
“We invite people to sit together in the European style … we do have the two large tables,” Welsh said. “And we don’t want someone waiting to come in and have a seat when there are some available,” she added.
“It allows for everyone to meet others from the community if they don’t already know each other,” she said.
Steele said he has been a collector for decades. “I became more of an accumulative picker in the ’70s, and I put a taper on it when I met this lovely lady,” Steele explained, referring to Welsh.
Steele used to sell his treasures at the North Carolina State fair grounds and would travel “all over” to discover more valuable items. His most interesting pieces are precious metals and gold nuggets. His experience from working in the mines in West Virginia helped him gain knowledge of precious metals and stones. He explained how he has been to depths of 200 feet vertically and has gone horizontally underground from one mountain to another. One of his favorite experiences was when he was underground and the gems glittered like stars in the darkness.
“It was like seeing all the color spectrums of the rainbow,” he said.
Honoring the Military
The Boarding House Treasures & Tea Room will host a Fallen Soldier Table in honor of MIA/POW military servicemen and women who have yet to make the journey home. They appreciate the sacrifices that members of the military have made and continue to make.
Time for Tea
The Boarding House Treasures & Tea Room is open Thursday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m . The tea room also hosts events such as baby showers and birthday parties.
“Mrs. Carla is so sweet, and the food is awesome,” Madison Vaught said in describing her 18th birthday party that was hosted by The Boarding House Treasures & Tea Room.
“Mr. Mason showed us the rooms of the house and his treasure collection. I really enjoyed talking with them,” she continued. “They made me feel right at home.”
For more information about The Boarding House Treasures & Tea Room, call (910) 491-7777.
PHOTOS: (Top to Bottom) Owner and chef Carla Welsh; Owner and collector Mason Steele