12 Jul 2019

'Would you like a hat with your tea?'

From Country Life, 9:20 pm on 12 July 2019

English-born Jo Watson was homesick so, to make herself feel better, she opened a tea room in the middle of her home in rural Taranaki. There you'll find crocheted blankets for knees, knitting needles to pick up, eight types of scones and crazy hats to wear.

Before Jo Watson opened her tearoom in the small Taranaki village of Urenui, she did plenty of market research – devouring as many cream teas as she could on a trip home to the UK.

Urenui is a half-hour drive north of New Plymouth and has a mix of baches and permanent homes and a strong farming base.

Jo, who is from Dorset on England's southwest coast, lives with her family in the former Urenui Town Hall.

"I've lived in New Zealand for 23 years and think it's the most wonderful place to live in the world but... I suddenly became really homesick and it was almost a case of do I pack up and just go back or why not open a tea room in the middle of our home," Jo says.

"From the day we opened, every single day without fail has brought in wonderful people."

The quirky tea room has colourful crocheted blankets for customers' knees, knitting they can pick up should they wish and mad hats for them to wear.

It can take a while for customers to realise the hats are not just for show, Jo says.

"The moment we give them the all-clear... I turn around they're all wearing them and it changes them. You can see them... just having fun.  It's great. You're never too old to dress up."

Jo says she moved to Urenui for its rural location: "It's got that village community."

Just outside her front door, she has set up a little free library and a community pantry.

She pops scones in the pantry and others in the community leave produce and other staples.

People can come day or night and help themselves, Jo says.