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Leona, 53, worked for Bell for 25 years. She was in sales and service when the company relocated her to Toronto. She decided she didn’t want to make the commute. She left and took a couple of years off to decide what she really wanted to do.

She took a job at Watson’s Tearoom on Locke Street South. She learned the business of small business there, doing everything from baking to serving tables. The best part was the customers soon became friends. But it closed in December 2000 and Leona was out of a job.

Then the landlord asked if she was interested in opening a similar business. It didn’t take her long to make up her mind. Buying used equipment and doing a bit of renovating, she took a gamble and opened the Vintage Garden Tea Room in March 2001.

It cost her about $5,000 in cash and a lot of elbow grease. Using some of the knowledge she gleaned from her previous employer, and by listening to her customers, she has built the tea room into a successful business.

Leona finds herself in the midst of mixing bowls, butter and flour on Mondays. All the baking, except for the bread, is done on the premises. She serves everything from chicken pot pie and English salad plates to vegetarian sandwiches. And, of course, there’s tea.

Capitalizing on both the rejuvenation of Locke Street and the demand for quality teas, she has built a unique venue where people can spend a few minutes surrounding themselves with the sights and smells of Grandmother’s kitchen. There are quilts, pottery, antiques, loose-leaf tea and other tea accessories available for purchase.

Tea is served in china cups, on vintage linens. She also has weekly tea leaf readings and a children’s table complete with hats and teddy bears.

“I never in a million years expected to find myself here,” she says. “But I would not give it up for the world. There is nothing nicer than to become part of my customers’ lives. I see many of them every day and am privileged to watch their families grow.”

Lessons Learned:

• Be prepared to work hard. “Opening and running a business can be very hard, and one must be prepared to work hard to make a go of it. I now have a new respect for people who have their own businesses.”

• Listen to your customers. Leona continually makes adjustments to her recipes and adds to her product at the request of her customers. In this way, she can continually supply the market with what it demands.

• Turn problems into opportunities. Leona turned a transfer into a part-time job, and a business that closed became her own business. For every door that closes, the one beside it offers opportunity.

Leona DiCenzo chuckles as she slides part of the five dozen shortbread cookies into the oven to be delivered today to a special customer. After all, a little over five years ago when she worked for Bell Canada, she had her mother-in-law do all her Christmas baking. But this morning at the Vintage Garden Tea Room on Locke Street South, DiCenzo finds herself smelling the sweet cookie smells that will put smiles on the faces of children and adults alike over the holidays.

About Us

The following is a newspaper article about Tea Rooms Canada founder and tea room owner Leona DiCenzo.

A Cosy Spot on Locke Street

A part-time job became a full-time business
Hamilton Spectator, Monday December 27, 2004
by Mandie Crawford (mandie@roaringwomen.com)

Tea Rooms Canada
TRC est. 2004

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* Leona’s Tea Room has closed it’s doors after 15 years due to retirement. The Vintage Garden is still selling their premium loose leaf tea however; available at www.vgtea.ca.

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