Vintage Fork survives pivot, prepares for new home

Vintage Fork, a restaurant turned online tea shop, is preparing to move into a new brick and mortar location this summer at the Barto Residence.

Sarah Melli and her husband Salar bought the residence six years ago with the intention of seeking municipal historic resource status and offering a restaurant inside. It has since been designated and restored, but now their plan is to base their growing tea shop out of the house.

"We'll have seating where you can come in and have a cup of tea. Salar is probably going to be doing some cookies, and our scones are going to be coming back, but it won't be a full restaurant like it used to be," said Melli, who added that her and her husband currently live in the Alberta Avenue-area residence.

"It is a historic home, and we want it to still feel like you're walking into a house. There's really interesting, original character and trim and woodwork in the house that we wouldn't want to change because that's part of the part of the historic aspect of it."

The business was initially forced to shut down in March 2020 when its home of two and a half years, Rutherford House, was closed because of COVID-19. Unlike other restaurants, Vintage Fork wasn't allowed to offer delivery and pickup services.

But customers quickly began inquiring about buying the high-quality tea the boutique restaurant was known for, so the Mellis decided to pivot and create an online tea shop.

"We just decided that this is our new path, and we're all in, we're going for it," Melli told Taproot. "We had 12 tea flavours at the restaurant and now we have over 70. We're hoping to have over 100 by the end of this year."

Barto Residence, a bright blue, two-storey building

The Barto Residence, a designated historic resource in the Alberta Avenue area, was built in 1913. (Supplied)

While the initial closure of its Rutherford House restaurant was disheartening, the pivot has ultimately made the Vintage Fork team stronger, Melli said.

"It was really challenging to make the change at first, but now on the other side of it, we can see so many positives. We're both at home every night to put our daughter to bed, we can eat meals together. It's been huge for quality of life."

The shift has also allowed them to focus on one area and refine their knowledge about looseleaf tea rather than juggle all of the parts that make a restaurant run smoothly. Vintage Fork has recently begun offering a monthly tea subscription, and it provides free delivery within the Edmonton area.

"We're just trying to build a tea community for the people that want to be part of us," explained Melli.

And soon enough the Vintage Fork will be back to building that community in person at the Barto Residence, a transition that Melli is eager to make.

"Not many of the historic homes get turned into public spaces. So it's really cool to be able to let the public come in and experience this old house and hear the stories about what used to happen here or even hear the story of fixing up the house and saving it."

The house is named for Harmon Barto, a building superintendent who bought the home with his brother Donald in 1913, during a development boom in the Alberta Avenue/Norwood area. It is an example of the Foursquare style of architecture that was popular in North America from the mid-1890s to the late 1930s.