Chattanooga entrepreneur Rashelle Stafford’s vision for The Dent House’s tearoom and restaurant has come to fruition.
The business opened in September 2016, the culmination of Stafford’s plan to create an intimate, quiet and relaxing space where patrons could slow down and enjoy a special experience.
She and her daughters—who are the business’ namesakes—have been surprised and satisfied with the reception.
“We have overshot our target,” she said. “We have just steadily been met with unprecedented success. We’ve been shocked and pleased and excited.”
The full-service restaurant specializes in serving afternoon tea.
Patrons can get a fine-dining experience with homemade dishes in the middle of the day, Stafford said.
Tea is a three-tier experience, during which patrons are served scones, sandwiches and desserts on Royal Albert china from servers dressed in black.
Women traditionally wear big hats or bonnets to tea, so Polly Claire’s provides those for anyone who wants them, but fancy dress isn’t a requirement.
“We like to say that we’ve dressed up for you, but it’s not necessary for you to dress up for us,” Stafford said.
Runners have come in off the street and enjoyed tea, she also said.
The space, which can be reserved for events and private parties, includes seven large dining rooms.
In addition to the restaurant/tearoom and event space, there’s also a carriage house that doubles as a gift shop, which carries 27 varieties of tea and gifts such as jewelry made from chinaware.
The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Stafford family also owns a Signal Mountain farm from which they source some of the ingredients used at the restaurant.
The move to buy The Dent House and embark on this business venture could have been destructive to the family, Stafford said.
It was a hefty undertaking. But what could have been a taxing experience ended up being one that unified the family, she said.
“My family said, ‘You have a ticket to be absent for a year,'” she said. “For the first year, everyone was helping. Everyone pulled together.”
Stafford’s daughters, Polly and Claire, work at the restaurant every Saturday while going to school and taking on other work duties.
They give a presentation to groups about the history of the Dent family.
Polly is the tea drinker who helps Stafford select the drinks, and Claire is the “dairy queen” who works with the cows on the farm and makes butter and cheese, which are available in the gift shop.
The 18- and 19-year-old sisters have fun while they work, sometimes acting as if they had their own reality show called “Sister Servers,” Stafford said.
Railroad contractor Jarrett Dent built The Dent House in 1854.
He came to the area to expand the Western and Atlantic railroads and bought 320 acres to build the home, which also has connections to the Civil War.
Stafford said that Dent’s cousin, Julia Dent Grant, married Ulysses S. Grant, who went on to become president of the United States.
The home was also an orphanage from 1898 until 1988 and, most recently, a youth building for Chattanooga Church, from which Stafford bought the home.
“It’s kind of like Chattanooga’s little hidden gem,” she said.
Click here for more about the history of the house.