A Conversation with… Lauren Fox and Haley Fox

We recently sat down with Haley and Lauren Fox—sisters, authors, and owners of the wildly popular Manhattan restaurants, Alice’s Tea Cup—to ask them some questions about their new book and find out what it’s really like to run a business with a member of your own family. Alice’s Tea Cup hits stores on October 26 and features dozens of recipes for everything from mouthwatering brunch (including their world-famous scones!) to decadent desserts and cocktails. We can’t wait!

1. You touch on this in your book, but can you tell our readers what inspired the Alice in Wonderland theme for your restaurants?

We always loved the story and the trippy, fun, whimsical yet nostalgic feeling it leaves you with. We thought, Let’s open an unconventional tea salon, where pinkies needn’t be up, harp music needn’t be playing, and people actually get fed (and for all ages!). The first image that came to mind was the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where every day is an unbirthday but a reason to celebrate. And so we went with it!

2. Here’s a tough one for you—what’s the one Alice’s dish you absolutely couldn’t live without?

Oh, my.
Haley: the Croque Madame with Lapsang Souchong smoked chicken.
Lauren: the Warm Lentil Salad.

3. For each of you—what’s your favorite kind of tea? And do you ever drink coffee?

Yes, we both drink tea and coffee, but, while you can crave the coffee almost because of its smell and ability to pick you up, tea has its time and place, and you crave different ones depending on where or when you’re having them. For us, for example, a morning tea craving is vastly different from one in the late afternoon, the former being strong and dark and the latter being more mellow and relaxing.

Haley’s favorite tea: Mauritius, hands down. A great coffee substitute, it always picks me up. It’s great with milk, full of vanilla essence, and a treat for all the senses.

Lauren’s: Mt. Everest Breakfast Blend. It has the slightest hint of smokiness to it it and is a really great alternative to standard English Breakfast Blend. Also, Bai Hao Champagne Oolong for its toasty flavor and amazing health benefits!

4. Where do the recipes at Alice’s come from? Do you make any dishes that were inspired by customers?

We’re inspired by the teas, actually. Some of the fare is simply traditional tea fare turned on its ear, mostly by using tea infusing in the cooking or baking. Customers have inspired dishes, sure! We have people asking for us to incorporate Lavender Earl Grey in something and so we test it out and, tada, suddenly we have a Lavender Earl Grey Crème Brulee for a season!

5. In the book, you talk about how to throw different kinds of festive parties. Is there one most critical element to making sure people are comfortable and having a good time?

The food is always the most important thing, and plenty of it! But making sure you keep the tea flowing to wash it down comes in at a close second. We believe people are comfortable if they feel cared for, period. When they’re surrounded by good friends, half the job of making them comfortable is already taken care of.

6. The three Alice’s Tea Cup locations are incredibly popular. Aside from buying the book and making your treats at home, what are the best times to avoid the lines?

Mornings (8-10) are good, and evenings for a late lunch or early dinner (6-8), definitely! It’s like a different place in the mornings, serene and almost spa-like. Then it becomes a true restaurant at around 11, albeit more whimsical and comfortable than most!

7. What do you like most about living and working in New York City?

Oh, where to begin?! Someone we know put it best: he left the city because he was too distracted to write. Then he had to come back because he had nothing to write about! NYC keeps you going, inspired, excited… We meet new people every day, learn new tales. It’s an invaluable way to keep you young and happy. There’s a pride people have in the local businesses, a protectiveness over each other, that’s somewhat small-town-like and belies the city pace around you. There’s nowhere else like it. Plus, New York is the arts epicenter of the country! We grew up in and around the arts and always had access to them in some form or another. When we were younger we took it for granted, but now we know how lucky we are!

8. What’s the best and the trickiest part about running a business with your sister? How do you divide up the responsibilities?

We fall into the roles easily because we’re so naturally different. We never had to have the discussion of who does what, it was just obvious to both of us from the start! But we confer and know when it’s necessary to put both our minds to something. Writing this cookbook worked that way: it was the first time since opening our third location that we have worked together day to day on something and had to say “no, that’s not right” and throw things back and forth at each other, and we were reminded how much we enjoy each other and that process. You have to trust the person and have the right relationship, in which nothing is taken personally and you know you both have things in perspective. It works somehow. What’s trickiest? Knowing when to help out vs. when to ask for something. To gauge this, you have to know what the person’s going through and what their limit is.

9. Given your backgrounds in film, is it still surprising to find yourselves as successful restaurateurs?

Yes! And no. Yes, because I (Haley) can’t cook, really, and I (Lauren) have very little interest in numbers! We both think visually and creatively, but business is business, and you have to focus on that part, too. No, because we were pretty sure that if we loved it, a lot of people would, so we went with our gut about what we found missing in restaurants, tea rooms, shops… and went from there.

10. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to start a restaurant?

Concept! Make sure you stick with a concept, and that it’s different somehow. What do you think is missing out there? What would you love? And, a close second, hire good, nice, happy people. Anyone can be trained to do inventory or fill in spaces on an Excel spreadsheet, but you can’t train someone to be a wonderful person day in and day out, and that matters most of all to you, your customers, and the future of your business.

One Response to “A Conversation with… Lauren Fox and Haley Fox”
  1. Erica says:

    GREAT blog! And I’ve heard so many amazing things about Alice’s tea cup. I want to try that the Warm Lentil Salad asap!

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