The Scene

Shorewood tea room a place for dressing up and slowing down

Patrons should feel ‘like you’re in a whole other world’

Avery Moore, 11, enjoys tea with her mother and sister at the Royal Tea Room on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Shorewood.

Michelle Cunningham of Braidwood used to serve the Shorewood community as a 911 dispatcher.

Now she serves the community tea.

Cunningham opened the Royal Tea Room on March 20 at 315 Vertin Blvd. in Shorewood, a venture that, for Cunningham, is as much “a calling” as it is a business.

“I felt really called to it,” she said.

For years, she enjoyed going to afternoon tea at the Drake Hotel in Chicago with her mother Diane Trevino, who died in September 2022.

“After my mom passed away, I went to tea with a couple of friends of mine,” Cunningham said. “We talked about, ‘What if we opened something like this close by us?’ And something in me was just set on fire.”

The Royal Tea Room in Shorewood is a café that serves a wide variety of teas and a light afternoon meal consisting of finger sandwiches, soups, salads and scones in a 90-minute, English-inspired afternoon tea experience.

“We worked very hard to make it just right,” Cunningham said. “It’s relaxing, peaceful, elegant and sophisticated.”

Custumers enjoy an elegant afternoon of tea and desserts at the Royal Tea Room on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Shorewood.

Reservations are encouraged Tuesday through Friday and required Saturday and Sunday, according to the Royal Tea Room’s website.

The table will be “completely set and ready for you,” Cunningham said.

A dedicated server will guides patrons through the menu, she said.

People also can rent the space for events and children’s birthday parties, according to the website.

Cunningham said a mother and her daughters patronized the tea room the first weekend it was open, and “everyone was dressed to the nines.”

“I wanted this tea room to be a place of socialization and almost feeling like you’re in a whole other world,” Cunningham said, “and feeling relaxed with your girls, friends or best friend or husband. … It’s an excuse to get dressed up, to feel sophisticated and feminine and just have a wonderful time.”

Becca Moore, left to right, and her daughters Avery, 11, and Sydney, 9, enjoy an afternoon of tea at the Royal Tea Room on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Shorewood.

What’s on the menu

Food items on the general seating menu include creamy carrot salad; Ceasar salad (chicken is extra); corn muffins; fresh fruit; tea sandwiches (choice of classic cucumber, ham and mustard or carrot and cheddar); and scones with house-made cream, jam and butter, according to the website.

Beverages include tea, light roast coffee (also available in decaf), hot chocolate (with chocolate shavings, marshmallows and whipped cream) and a Shirley Temple (grenadine and lemon-lime soda with maraschino cherries), according to the website.

For the afternoon tea menu, patrons can choose a four- or five-course menu and make their selections from there. Most of the food is made in-house, Cunningham said. A children’s menu also is available.

Tea choices range from the traditional Earl Grey and English Breakfast to a number of specialties, including non-caffeinated teas, such as the indigo tea, which contains rose hips and apple pieces, according to the website, which also lists descriptions, photos and ingredients in all its teas.

Tea pots sit on display at the Royal Tea Room on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Shorewood.

For instance, the Celebration Tea has notes of fruit and nuts. Irish Breakfast is full-bodied – with notes of roasted malt – and typically is served with milk and sugar. Flavors in the Tower of London include black currants, vanilla, honey and bergamot oil. The jasmine tea comes from the northern Fujian province of China. The Japanese Sencha is a green tea from Tokyo.

Cunningham said she feels everything at the Royal Tea Room – the food, the tea, the ambiance – is meant to be savored. It’s a place to slow down, she said. It’s a place to put phones on silent while sipping tea, listening to classical music and enjoying the company of loved ones, she said.

“You see very little of that in the world these days,” Cunningham said.

How the tea room became reality

Shortly after that pivotal tea with friends, Cunningham opened a spreadsheet and started working on a budget. She had never owned a business, but she worked in hotels for years – from the front desk to management to sales.

“I always had a bit of sense for business,” Cunningham said. “But I think, for me, I was just trying to figure it out. It was a hard process, really, of starting literally from scratch.”

She said she researched the cost of everything online – a business license, a lawyer to review her lease, electricity, even cups and saucers – and made educated estimates.

After my mom passed away, I went to tea with a couple of friends of mine. We talked about, ‘What if we opened something like this close by us?’ And something in me was just set on fire.”

—  Michelle Cunningham, co-owner of the Royal Tea Room in Shorewood

But before Cunningham signed a lease, she contacted Geraldine Gwarnicki, owner of High Tea With Gerri in Long Grove, for some honest business advice. Cunningham said Gwarnicki spent an hour with her.

“She was very honest about labor costs and margins,” Cunningham said.

But the conversation also empowered Cunningham, who said she now felt, “OK, I can do this.”

Gwarnicki said she was delighted to talk with “such a sweet lady” as Cunningham about the tea room she’s run for the past 27 years “with passion and joy.”

She talked to Cunningham about finding and retaining quality staff, Gwarnicki said. She stressed the importance of not outsourcing the shopping and preparing food in-house, Gwarnicki said.

The Royal Tea Room, located in Shorewood, offers a relaxing elegant experience of tea and desserts.

Gwarnicki said advertising is expensive, but it did help Gwarnicki grow her business. Now that she’s established, Gwarnicki doesn’t advertise much anymore, she said. But she still interacts with her patrons, which she feels adds another level of charm to her venue.

“I’m from Ireland,” she said. “So, of course, they love my accent.”

Gwarnicki said she wished Cunnington the best of luck, delighted that Cunningham was “brave enough to do it.”

“I can’t wait to visit her,” Gwarnicki said.

Cunningham said the village of Shorewood also was very helpful and actually steered her toward the place that the Royal Tea Room is located today. The place was perfect for Cunningham’s vision.

“It was the only space we ever looked at,” Cunningham said.

The Royal Tea Room on Friday, March 29, 2024 in Shorewood.


WHAT: The Royal Tea Room

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays.

WHERE: 315 Vertin Blvd., Shorewood,

INFORMATION: Visit or call 815-782-6151.

Denise  Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.