Catholic Free Press

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  • Mar
  • 6

Telling stories in Nana’s tea room

Posted By March 6, 2014 | 12:55 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

SOUTHBRIDGE – Lacy white curtains, doilies draped over upholstered chairs and delicate teacups give the room an air of elegance.
Yet the Dublin lass who opened this delightful tea room at an age when many retire claims she’s not a decorator. She gives God the glory.
Welcome to Nana B’s Teas. Service – and stories – come with a smile from Nana B, a.k.a., Bridget Vogelsang. (She and her husband are natives of Ireland, but his father was German.)
She’s called Nana B by her grandchildren, one of whom came for tea (and sandwiches and cookies) with her Trinity Catholic Academy class last Friday. But we’ll get back to that story, because Nana B will regale and inspire you with hers. (Too bad you can’t hear her Irish lilt!)
After immigrating to the United States in 1965, she became a waitress. Some years ago she opened her own tea room in Willington, Conn., but closed it a year later, due to rising rent. She returned to waitressing sporatically.
In 2004 she and her husband moved to Charlton, to the home of their daughter Heidi Graff and her husband, Kenneth. They all belong to St. Joseph Parish.
“Then eventually I retired and I got bored,” Nana B fast forwards. “I decided to look for a job again. Try looking for a waitress job when you’re 74. I was gracefully declined. It was their loss and my gain, because I ended up with this lovely place.”
It all began when John Gabriel McCarthy hired her for the Hop Vine Cafe he ran in his building at 12 Crane St.
“It was because Gabe was Irish, I think,” she says of landing the job. Then the place closed.
Talk about starting a business led her to ask a tavern in the building to sublet space to her for a tea room when it wasn’t open. She’d have to pack up her things each evening.
“I got my licensing from the town hall” and invited the workers there to an opening tea, she says. “I was carted off by ambulance that night with a heart attack. It was the best thing that ever happened.”
After recuperating, she asked Mr. McCarthy about having her own space at 12 Crane St. He also offered her the chairs from his restaurant, which she partially reupholstered, something she had never done.
“I don’t know how to decorate,” she claims. “This all came to me through the Holy Spirit. … Thank you, Jesus! …  I tell everybody; I don’t even say, ‘Are you a Christian?’ It’s nothing but an absolute miracle – that’s what I tell them.”
The 75-year-old opened her dream tea room last October, after her pastor, Father Robert A. Grattaroti, blessed it. Business was good for awhile, but harsh winter weather kept customers away.
“In normal circumstances I would have cried,” she says. Instead, she started polishing the silver.
“I said, ‘God, I’m not going to worry anymore,’” she recalls. She would accept his will. She points out a framed Scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5.”
“We offer everything to God, whatever his will is, day by day,” says Mrs. Graff, Mom’s general manager. “I never paid so much attention to the weather.”
Last Friday served up more of this winter’s special: cold air. But customers kept waitresses – and Nana B – busy.
Among visitors were Trinity Catholic’s fifth-graders who came to experience a tea room for a class project.
“We read a book: ‘The View from Saturday,’” said fifth-grader Johann Vennink.
“In the book it said they always had tea on Saturday at 4 o’clock,” added Amy Loin.
“The students had to write an epilogue based on the book” by E.L. Konigsburg, said their teacher, Vesna Todd. Since the book talked about students drinking tea, she brought hers to the tea room.
“I wanted them to have the same experience as the characters in the book and share their writing,” she explained.
“I think everybody had a ton of fun,” said Mary Graff, Nana B’s granddaughter.
George Karamanakis, who shared a table with her, Natalie Beauchemin and Kyle Woodruff, claimed they learned how to be “proper,” something they weren’t particularly demonstrating.
The tea room is closed Monday and Tuesday, and on Thursdays they serve dinner too.
To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day there’s also a dinner on March 15 with tradional Irish foods “and other Irish goodness,” Mrs. Graff says. An Irish band, Madra Rhua, is to play. Nana B will probably sing.
– For reservations call 774-318-1313; for info see