Bite-Sized History: The Denver Tea Room and Cream Scones

As Women’s Bean Project gained momentum into the 2010s, the product line expanded beyond soups and into baking mixes. A scone mix was a top priority in R&D, but with little success. Most resulted in dry, hard scones that were commonly unappealing.  

Two miles south of the original Firehouse #10 location, on East Colfax, The Denver Tea Room was having their own scone-related situation.  

The Denver Tea Room was once a staple of East Colfax in Denver. It operated as a bed and breakfast style café, in an old Victorian era building now known solely as The Holiday Chalet. After years of serving breakfast, brunch, and high tea to the Colorado community, Denver Tea Room now exists as an online shop where loose-leaf tea can be purchased from founder Margo directly. But back in the 2010’s, it was a bustling English-style eatery. 

Margo had been receiving numerous recipe requests for The Denver Tea Room’s famous cream scones. The Tea Room was reluctant to share the proprietary recipe; the pastries were a large part of their success, and to give away the recipe would be giving away a foothold in the brunch circuit. But Margo saw profit in selling the scones as a mix and set out to find someone who could package the dry ingredients. 

Which is how, by a timely twist of fate, Women’s Bean Project got a call from Denver Team Room inquiring about packaging their popular scones. Tamra Ryan visited the Colfax mansion to try the scones themselves. 

Scones and tea were served from a tiny red-brick kitchen, barely changed from its construction in 1896.

“That was hands down the best scone I’ve ever had,” Tamra says. “To this day.”

Much like the Lentil Soup Showdown, the partnership between The Denver Tea Room and Women’s Bean Project was only in part about the product itself. The Tea Room had a broad range of packagers from which to choose from, and they were drawn to Women’s Bean Project for very specific reasons. Margo and her siblings grew up in New Mexico with a single working mother. The Bean Project mission appealed to them on a deep level, which Tamra has found to be fairly common: 

“If you get people talking, the mission resonates with them for very personal reasons. One man told me, ‘If my mom had had a Women’s Bean Project, our lives would have been very different.’ What we address is much more relatable than we might think.”

As the world moves through economic and social turmoil, the discussion of mental health and trauma has shifted into the public eye. Just recently, a Colorado House bill about the prescriptive authority of licensed psychologists passed and moved on to the Senate. I was fortunate enough to sit in on the reading of this bill. Usually, there is a general murmur of discussion across the House floor as bills are read. It echoes up into the viewing gallery, giving a sense of flippancy towards many decisions. But then Representative Amabile revealed her own personal connection to the bill, which included a grueling process of diagnosis and treatment with her own son. There was thinly veiled frustration in her voice, a sense that she was trying to tell the story as calmly as possible despite the emotional toll it took on her. The floor went quiet. It was eerie but oddly comforting—this was a story that was taken seriously and with respect. 

As these kinds of discussions and discoveries are brought to light, one thing has been made very clear. Nearly everyone in America has been touched by addiction, domestic violence, poverty, or mental illness. Our clients are not unique in their journey, and many of the supporters who gather in the WBP community have lived the stories that pass through our doors. Margo and her siblings saw their mother in the participants we serve, and made the conscious decision to keep production here in their backyard. 

While local partners may have less cachet, working with organizations like Denver Tea Room has a much more tangible effect on the community. Before Denver Tea Room moved to online sales only, they could simply point up the road to show customers where their scone mix had been made. Women’s Bean Project participants could visit the tearoom and know that they had a direct hand in creating the boxed mix on their shelves.  

Poverty in distant countries is easy to acknowledge, but hard to influence. Poverty in our own backyard is harder to acknowledge, but easier to influence. It’s up to each of us as community members, voters, and consumers to seek out our own circle of influence. We are deeply grateful to The Denver Tea Room for continuing to make a difference in their community and encourage the Bean Project community to do the same.

You never know: the best scones you’ve ever had and the opportunity to change a woman’s life might be just a few miles away.

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