Before the doors of Oscar’s Tearoom and Gift Shop opened for business in late 2013, Greg Blankenship said the quaint shop in Wilton Manors intrigued him and his partner of 11 years, Devin Roberts.
After peaking through the glass, their curiosity only increased — small round tables adorned in red cloth and fine china filled the shop floor, and small trinkets decorated the walls and shelves.
“We walked in the first day the shop opened,” Blankenship said. “After we sat down, we both said that this was the coziest and most decorated shop in Wilton Manors.”
Blankenship and Roberts’ awe didn’t stop there: Aside from the authentic beverages, scones and desserts served, shop owners Kevin and Craig Ashdown understood the importance of a cup of afternoon tea served in true English fashion.
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“It’s nice to see guys coming in and having a proper cup of tea,” said Craig, 43, over the sounds of his partner of 25 years, Kevin, 51, hoisting away dirty dishes.
Tea, Craig says, is “not just a lady thing.”
He said in the past year, regulars like Blankenship and Roberts have given the shop a steady and loyal clientele.
The tearoom celebrated its first anniversary in December.
“The shop first opened the 26th of December, which is Boxing Day in England,” Craig said. Boxing Day is a public holiday in the United Kingdom celebrated the day after Christmas. “We were cooking all day––Christmas Day–– until [closing time].”
Christmas 2013 “went out the window,” Craig said, but this past holiday season the couple took a week off.
The Ashdowns moved from their hometown of Stoke-on-Trent, England, for South Florida to open the tearoom.
Kevin and Craig have owned and operated together in England six businesses over the years –– a fish-and-chips shop, a flower shop, a sandwich shops, a spiritual shop and two gift shops. Oscar’s makes this their seventh.
The Wilton Manors shop’s name is in memory of their rescued black Labrador, who died shortly before their departure.
“We scattered his ashes on the beach in Brighton, [England],” Craig said. “We flew here drinking champagne and celebrating [Oscar’s] life.”
The love they had for Oscar, they say, is what they try to radiate in the shop, which influences how they relate to shop goers.
The Ashdowns don’t allow Wi-Fi in the store. Instead, Craig says, “we like to interact with people, and we like our guests to mix as well.”
“It’s the only way that you’re going to learn about life and culture — by talking to a stranger,” he said, adding he’ll often introduce strangers to break the ice.
Communication and human connection have always been an important value for their businesses; it’s also made them stronger as a couple. Their chemistry, Craig says, is something extraordinary.
The Ashdowns met in their hometown at Kevin’s old job, a fish-and-chips shop he managed. In 1989, Craig, then an 18-year-old florist, would frequently visit the shop with co-workers. The connection was almost instant.
“Within three months, we were living together, and within nine months, we opened up a business together,” he said.
In 2005, Kevin and Craig were among the first gay British couples to enter into a civil partnership under the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 later legalized full same-sex marriage in England and Wales in March 2014.
Now in Wilton Manors, with its large LGBT population, the Ashdowns hope their shop will make a mark.
“When we first opened, we had a lot of people that came through the door and said we wouldn’t survive. They didn’t know what we did and judged us immediately,” Craig said. “But I’m not scared of hard work, and neither is my partner. We both worked together for 25 years, day in and day out. We’re soul mates and best friends, and we love making people feel welcome.”
If you go
▪ What: Oscar’s Tea Room and Gift Shop
▪ Where: 1201 NE 26th St., Wilton Manors
▪ Hours: Tuesdays through Sundays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
▪ For more information: Call 954-537-6011