FARGO — Dayna Del Val has found her happy place.
Del Val’s husband recently treated her to an afternoon tea at Soirée Victorian Tea Room, and the area arts leader says it felt like a touch of Europe, without having to leave Fargo.
“I have not done this anywhere outside of the major cities of America. Even then, you’re going to go to a great, big hotel. I’ve not done anything like this outside of Europe,” Del Val said Wednesday, Dec. 9. “I loved it. My husband (Dr. Andrew “Mazz” Marry) took me.”
Marry is Irish born, but he grew up in England, she said.
“So, I am very fortunate to get to have a lot of afternoon teas in England and Ireland. And because we haven’t been able to travel at all this year, I haven’t been to a tea shop since February. So, when this one opened, he made a prompt reservation and I felt like it was absolutely as nice as many of the tea places that I have been around in, in Ireland,” Del Val said.
Del Val, who describes herself as “an afternoon tea enthusiast,” says Soirée - which opened a little over a month ago at 3 Eighth St. S. - is a balm for a busy, stressed life.
“Part of what makes it special for me is that I’m a lover of Jane Austin and all of the literature where afternoon tea is such an important piece, of women in particular, but all peoples’ kind of cultural day-to-day. I love the resonance of that for me,” the president and CEO of The Arts Partnership said.
“I think the other thing is, it really does slow you down. You know, it’s deliberate. It’s enchanting, it’s calming. It’s all these things that aren’t at all what our day-to-day lives are like. So, you can step in off a busy street into an afternoon tea, and it could be anytime in history and it could be any place, and everything sort of stops and focuses on the beauty and the simplicity and the detail of all the pieces that go with it. The beauty of the china, and the delicacy of the food, the aroma of the tea. And all of it, it’s just not something we do every day. So it feels very special every time it happens.”
Soirée Victorian Tea Room is owned and operated by Natalia Heikes, who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 2000.
The tiny restaurant has the feel of a home parlor, full of comfy antique furniture, silver tea services, china, tchotchkes, framed photos, and even hats to add some throwback fun to a tea date.
Just like home
Heikes said afternoon tea in Russia “is extremely popular. It’s part of the culture.” In fact, her grandmother owned a tea shop.
“I grew up with the tradition in my home,” Heikes said. “Real crystal, real china, every weekend.”
So, having her own sit-down restaurant has been a goal.
“I wanted to have a nice restaurant. Relaxing, away from the busy life,” she said Tuesday, Dec. 8.
It’s taken a couple years to get the Soirée space renovated - much longer than Heikes or her landlord, Lee Watkins, expected.
But the result has been “like a puzzle that came together in its own time,” Heikes said.
Her life in America has had its own timetable, too.
Heikes settled in Colorado when she arrived in America. In 2006, she moved to Minnesota, living in the Wadena and Detroit Lakes areas.
From 2006 to 2010, she attended Minnesota State University Moorhead’s performing arts school, earning a bachelor’s degree. She moved to Fargo in 2012, and earned a master’s degree in performance from North Dakota State University in 2014.
Over the years, she’s taught music privately, played in a chamber orchestra and worked part time as an interpreter. But she also knows how to prepare the foods that go into an afternoon tea.
“I couldn’t choose for years what I wanted to do: Interpret, play piano, teach kids, serve tea or bake cake,” Heikes said. “I just thought I’d combine all that I can do and start enjoying myself. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Landlord on her side
Heikes and Watkins met a couple of years ago at a birthday party.
Watkins liked the idea of seeing a tea room in one of his buildings and set about repairing and expanding 3 Eighth St. N.
But it turned out to be “a big ordeal,” Watkins said.
In opening up the ceiling, walls and floors of the shop to move plumbing and a furnace, he found fire damage that hadn’t been properly cleaned or repaired.
Getting things right took much more time than expected, he said, but he was also able to give the shop a kitchen and a bathroom by adding another five feet of usable space to the back of the building.
Altogether, Soirée is about 400 to 450 square feet in area, with room for but a handful of tables when at full capacity. “It’s very European. Like Italy, Russia, little cafes,” Heikes said.
For now, Heikes said one party is allowed in for each session, in keeping with the state's COVID-19 pandemic indoor-dining restrictions.
“(It’s a) difficult time period. You move forward in little steps, day after day,” and do what the government mandates, she said. “But still keep doing it. It will go back someday to normal.”
Watkins said Soirée has been a hit with those who have found it. He’s ordered cakes for special events and made reservations for relatives.
“The reaction from people that eat here, walk out of here … it’s fantastic. It’s a whole new experience that very few people have the opportunity” to enjoy, he said.
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Classic British food
Del Val says Heikes is a tremendous hostess.
“She was lovely. Really gracious. Really welcoming. Did a nice job of attending to us without hovering. So it felt like we were free to enjoy our conversation, enjoy the space without having someone standing right there,” Del Val said. “She was very, very attentive in the very best sense of the word.”
The menu includes classic British food including finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and jam, mini cakes and, of course, tea.
The cost is $28 per person, plus tax and a 20% gratuity, according to the Soirée website. That’s in line with an afternoon tea in England, Del Val said.
“In addition to the food, which was really good, you’re paying for the experience. Where else can you have an experience quite like this?” Del Val asks.
Del Val says she intends to be back.
“My birthday is at the end of the month and we already have plans to be there for that. It will absolutely become a somewhat regular stop in our routine. Because it really was absolutely charming,” Del Val said.
“And I also think we all have to keep doing our part to support new businesses, local business, and support New American, immigrant businesses. I just think all of that is really important for those of us who are longtime residents to do,” Del Val said.
Soirée is open Thursday through Sunday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. by reservation only. Tea times are 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The service lasts 1 hour 20 min, but can be extended for an additional fee.
Children ages six and older are welcome.
The website is fargotearoom.com
Check for availability by calling (701) 367-8616 or emailing email@example.com.