Teatime inspires entrepreneurial culinary excellence
Jenn Parezo, creative mastermind behind Tea Time with Jenn. Images provided.
By Laura Union
Jenn Parezo knows her way around a tea party. A visit to Twenty Six Divine for Tea Time with Jenn is so much more than a charming outing with friends. It’s an entire experience, especially if Jenn joins you. In addition to regular guests, Jenn hosts what she calls the three B’s: bridal, birthday and baby showers. I’d like to add a fourth to encompass people of the likes of my family and me: bumbling bumpkins.
As people who didn’t grow up with the traditional teatime in the afternoons, we find taking out part of our day to do so a real thrill. While I could describe myself as a tea enthusiast, my mother enjoys afternoon tea almost entirely for the baked goods, my aunt for the clotted cream, my sister — the “poshness” of it all. And Jenn totally gets it.
She has an effusive love of teatime. “Anything served in fine china just tastes better,” she joked. We agreed that some of the fun of having tea is the dainty clinking sounds the cups make. What was intended to be a casual chat with Jenn, focusing on how she started the teahouse, quickly turned into a high-energy, giggle-filled look into personality types, introspection and modern inconveniences — things you don’t expect to discuss over tea.
The wild ride started with an athletic teenage Jenn, growing up in Arizona, planning to be a professional soccer player. She received a soccer scholarship from the state university but injured her ankle during her freshman year and had to come up with an entirely new plan. “I had to take a step back and regroup,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t do anything I wasn’t passionate about.” One thing she knew for sure: “I love art and I love to eat!” Pastry school seemed like a good fit. No doubt Jenn plowed her way through school with energy and enthusiasm because she’s bubbly and excitable and seemingly never runs out of steam. A proud new graduate and pastry chef, Jenn set her sights on New York City but was diverted by a gentle nudge from her dad. He suggested an internship on Seabrook Island. “It’ll at least get you to the East Coast,” he said. So Jenn came to Charleston, was immediately taken with the mossy oak trees and, four days into her internship, met Enan, who went on to marry the heroine of our story.
Here’s where things get meaty. Jenn and Enan are hustlers — thoughtful, intuitive, problem solvers. They worked a circuit of luxury hotels and high-end restaurants around town, including Charleston Place Hotel and The Sanctuary on Kiawah — Jenn in pastry, Enan as a chef. “We typically each worked two jobs for the majority of our 20s so we could have all the experiences.” Jenn was even a butcher for a little while — an effort to continue her education. Jenn and Enan have now been working side by side for more than 11 years, creating memorable dining experiences all over Charleston. It seems they have developed a love for the symphony of elements that come together to create a wonderful dining experience.
When Enan realized he didn’t want the hours involved with running a restaurant, it was time for another step back to regroup. While Jenn ran busy circles around him, Enan valued enjoying the moment and didn’t want to miss out on raising their family by spending nights, weekends and holidays in a commercial kitchen. He had made a name for himself outside of restaurants as a private chef for local families. After consistently being referred by these clients, Jenn thought, “I can work with this.”
Twenty Six Divine was born, and Jenn is the wheelin’ and dealin’ creative mind that keeps their company ever changing. It started out as a boutique lunch cafe. Enan did the cooking; Jenn provided desserts. They hoped their space would encourage people to slow down to enjoy the meal and moment. A natural extension of that was tea service after the meal. They added afternoon tea to the menu and it took off, turning this into a separate venture, Tea Time with Jenn. A visit to the teahouse means choosing from a selection of local teas from Charleston Tea Garden. While guests decide, Jenn brings out tiered stands of scones, petite desserts, savory selections and biscotti, all made by her own talented hands. She even makes the jams and compotes in house. Enan proudly provides the savory side of things. The selection could be a number of sweets — small cakes, biscuits, artisanal chocolates — and Jenn changes them up with the seasons.
One of the first things I noticed about Jenn (other than the refreshing delight of hearing someone gush over their spouse) is her self-awareness. She has an insightful ability to step outside of herself and observe the scene from a different angle. We mused over our shared worries of dominating a conversation, being too private or letting a fear of failure hold us back. What keeps her stepping up to the plate is entirely strategic; she wants her kids to see her try and fail and start again. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, she said it’s been a tough trial for her to let go, but that’s where her great perspective comes in. Never mind how Jenn feels about the success of something; she knows her children will see it, and that’s way more important.
Her ever-evolving ideas for the business not only keep Enan on his toes but have recently extended them into Avondale, more specifically to milliner Julia Pagan’s hat shop for Tea Time and Top Hats. Yes, you get to wear artisanal hats while enjoying hot tea and sweet treats. It’s all very Alice in Wonderland.
Since the start, Jenn has hosted tea parties at their teahouse downtown on King Street, and she’s also had great success with private in-home parties. As of this fall, Tea Time with Jenn has transitioned into new territory. “We wanted to see about joining forces with local businesses. Typically, every three to four years, I get an impulse to shake things up and find a new way to be creative and challenge myself in different ways. Over the past year, we have been focusing our attention and creativity on our private in-home dinners and tea parties. It made us realize how much we enjoy this side of our craft. We really wanted to branch out and see if we could team up with some other businesses that pair well with our style to create fun collaborations. For instance, we teamed up with Lotus Healing Center for a private four-course wellness dinner and lecture at Redux.” Jenn’s latest idea is to bring tea time to harbor cruises. Her wheels never stop turning.
“I have so many ideas going all the time. My husband tells me, ‘Before you tell me your idea, you need to think about it and revise it ten times before you bring it to me.’ I’ll just be blasting ideas at him. It’s too much!” Enan embodies the “slow down and enjoy” aspect that afternoon tea encourages, and Jenn makes it into an experience. She brings the good times with her as she moves through a day. “I don’t want to be busy without being present,” Jenn told me. Stopping to have tea is a perfect remedy.
For more information on booking private tea parties, Tea Time and Top Hats or the traditional service at the teahouse, visit www.twentysixdivine.com. Call 843-297-8118 for reservations.
Laura Union is a native Charlestonian with a fondness for people-watching and boiled peanuts. She works in the event industry and lives on James Island with her husband and two lazy dogs.