It was once common for business owners to live above or behind their storefronts. Although this practice is now an anomaly, Sarah Melli and her husband, Salar, a chef, just might renew the trend with their business, Vintage Fork.
The Mellis bought the historic and then-neglected Barto residence in 2016. Sarah says, “To locate, purchase, and buy a commercial business is crippling for entrepreneurs to start out.” For the Mellis, combining the purchase of a home and business in one building made the expenses more manageable.
Respecting the couple’s plans, Sarah’s grandmother hid her distress regarding the purchase, later confessing to Sarah that she went home and cried. Sarah admits, “It looked like it should have been torn down. The veranda was falling off. The three dormers were completely rotten.”
When the house was built in 1913, 95A Street was called Sinclair Street and marked the very edge of the city. “This was the only house we looked at. We just knew it was the one. That it happened to be in Alberta Avenue was a huge bonus because it’s a neighbourhood we believe in.”
Sarah says there are benefits to combining a home and a business. The first is the lack of a commute. She adds, “There is a different level of excitement when people arrive. It’s like receiving a guest into my home.” The kitchen is the only private space the Mellis have on the main floor. Upstairs, they have a designated space solely for packing up tea orders that they ship Canada-wide. They also offer free personalized local delivery.
What used to be the main floor’s living and dining rooms are now the display area for the teas they sell and the creation area of the most delectable, unique lattes and fogs to go. They do not offer a sit-down or food service. Drop in to peruse the 90 types of tea openly displayed and enjoy the aromas. If you want to sit and enjoy their teas, The Carrot Coffeehouse will soon offer a selection.
“We are the only tea shop where people can look and explore independently instead of having to ask for something behind counters.”
The Mellis have collaboration partners as unique as they are. Landlords across the street supply the honey from hives they manage in Belgravia. Then there is Alysia, who makes Caramunchies, a caramel-drizzled Corn Flake treat sold at the shop. Salar says, “They are quite addictive.” A local downtown family-owned cafe, Cookie Love, provides cookies, a perfect accompaniment to the tea they sell.
The most unique treat is possibly created by Kerri Bauer of Soul House Sweets. “[She’s] a Beaumont chocolatier who infuses our teas in Belgian Chocolate,” says Sarah. These are a must-try treat. Free of extra sugar or artificial ingredients, “Kerri’s bars and tea cup-shaped chocolates must be eaten within two weeks.” Coincidentally, Bauer also owns a historic house, and the house images adorn the bar wrappers.
Handmade ceramic mugs from a local potter make a beautiful addition to the displays.
After selling tea online for three years, the Mellis opened the tea shop in November. Sarah says, “Excited neighbours, after watching the external renovation, were curious to see the inside and [they] love the space. Traffic has been steady.” Salar convinced Sarah to paint the outside of the house his favourite shade of blue.
“We did want it to stand out in the neighbourhood.” It does, and the colour is not the final unique facet. Sarah says, “As far as I know, our house is the only municipally designated historic building open to the public.”
Possibly even more important, Sarah’s grandmother, now a huge supporter, donated plants and her artwork, which are displayed in the shop.
11425 95A St
Tues to Fri: 9 am to 4 pm
Sat: 10 am to 5 pm