Hard work begins to open the Woodbury House

After much dreaming and discussing, the heavy lifting has started.

The Mad Hatter Tea Room and Eatery received approval of the lease from the city of Anoka last month to relocate its business to the Woodbury House.

Mad Hatter Tea Room and Eatery owners Liz and Tim Koch, on the staircase of the Woodbury House, where the business will open next year. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming
Mad Hatter Tea Room and Eatery owners Liz and Tim Koch, on the staircase of the Woodbury House, where the business will open next year. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming

The historic home at 1632 S. Ferry St. needs a lot of work before the Mad Hatter can open, allowing it to expand from tea service and lunch to a full-time restaurant.

The lease was unanimously approved by the city council Nov. 4, minus Councilmember Jeff Weaver, who abstained from the vote. Weaver owns the neighboring property to the south and has agreed to an easement that will provide public access to the Rum River from the Woodbury House property.

Tea room owner Liz Koch said she and her husband Tim have long been looking for a place where they could expand their business. They had been courted by the city of Hopkins and also checked out options in Excelsior and Stillwater.

“Anoka is home to me and the tea room. I raised my kids here,” Koch said on her desire to stay.

She and Tim drove circles around the town, trying to figure out where they could expand. Their current location in the old post office building didn’t lend to the kind of expansion they envisioned.

“It was time to either sell the tea room or move,” Liz said.

While there is no shortage of newer, strip mall style commercial properties available, that wasn’t the right fit for the Mad Hatter.

Back in 1999 when the tea room opened, Tim and Liz thought the Woodbury House would have been a great spot.

But at the time the house was privately owned, the land wasn’t zoned for a restaurant and it just wasn’t a viable option, Liz said.

Fast forward almost 15 years and suddenly it was part of the picture.

The city bought the home from Anoka’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority last spring. After some debate over whether it should be resold as a private residence, it subdivided the property creating some public green space and requested proposals for a public use of the house.

Of the four proposals received, the council directed staff to work with The Mad Hatter.

The agreement inked earlier this month is for a five-year lease with the city, progressively increasing rent from $6,400 for the first year to $36,000 for years three through five.

At the end of the five years, there could be an option for the Kochs to purchase the property.

There is also incentive rent in addition to the base rent of 2.5 percent of sales over $100,000 a quarter, starting in the second year.

The lease allows for public and restaurant use of the main level of the home, and non-public use of the basement and second story.

The city will do system upgrades to the electric, heat and plumbing. The city’s construction and renovation budget is $350,000 and is being managed by Public Works Superintendent Mark Anderson.

But all other furnishings and interior upgrades will be the responsibility of the Kochs.

This kind of a business expansion is an expensive proposition.

“This a half a million dollar project,” Liz said. The commercial kitchen equipment alone costs $90,000.

“We’re saving money by doing as much of the work ourselves as we can,” she said. “I’m not afraid of a little elbow grease. I haven’t got where I am without working really hard.”

They are also launching a Kickstarter campaign, where the public can pledge their own dollars toward the project. Their goal is $58,000 and the money from each pledge is only collected if the overall goal is met.

“So many people have been asking how they can help, so this is a way for people to do that,” Liz said.

The Kochs plan to preserve as much of the historic charm of the house as possible, right down to keeping the undamaged wallpaper.

“We want the house, and how beautiful it is, to be the main decor,” Liz said.

The biggest changes on the main level have been some demolition to allow for the commercial kitchen, as well as a handicap accessible bathroom.

Parking, which Liz knows is a major concern for customers, will be in the Carpenter’s Hall lot across from the entrance Woodbury House. For now, those who aren’t able to make the walk can be dropped off and she hopes to add valet service at some point.

The plan is for a dining experience at the Mad Hatter to be special, but not overly pricy.

Liz said entrees will range from $10 to $20.

“We want this to be a place to go that is really nice, but where people can be comfortable and they’re not worried about which fork they are supposed to be using,” she said.

The menu will include traditional fare – red meat, seafood and chicken. Inside seating capacity will be about 50. In warmer months, the front porch, which is located on the river side of the home, will also be available al fresco dining.

The Mad Hatter will be open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sundays for brunch.

A chef with 30 years culinary experience has already been hired and the Mad Hatter’s pastry chef of two years will also be making the move with the business.

The Kochs will close the current Mad Hatter location at the end of the year, and it will remain closed until they reopen at the Woodbury House.

Liz knows it’s ambitious, but she’s hoping for February.

“It’s a lot of work but we’re just really exciting about getting this open so the public can get in here,” she said.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]