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  • Tara Crutchfield

Lavender ‘n Lace Tearoom & Restaurant

Florals, frills, and a quiet elegance permeate the atmosphere at Lavender ‘n Lace Tearoom & Restaurant in Lake Alfred. The family-owned tearoom is a whimsical world all its own. An ancient oak with twisted, wide-reaching limbs shades the side lawn. The outdoor garden blooms with flowers of every color and variety and a shimmering koi pond by which to reflect.


The brick-lined courtyard furnished with bistro tables is a paradisal place to listen to the garden’s wind chimes and enjoy a dish from their curated menu. Each room in the historic former residence is themed. Perhaps the most requested table is in the corner of the solarium, with sunlight pouring in through the wall of windows that overlook the lawn and white picket fence.


A LIFESTYLE DESTINATION

We spoke with Tabina Bajwa, daughter of Lavender ‘n Lace owners Sehar and Hafeez Bajwa. You could say Tabina’s unofficial title is ‘wearer of many hats.’ She has a deep appreciation for what her parents have created and is joining them to put her touch on the tearoom.


Tabina’s father, Hafeez, was a nautical captain in the merchant marines. He and his wife, Sehar, sailed the world, living in places like London and Djibouti before immigrating to the United States and settling in Polk County in 1989.


According to Tabina, the family started from scratch in Lake Alfred. “My mother joined a partnership with a lady that owned the original Lavender ’n Lace at another location,” she said. When that location burned down, the Bajwa’s kept the name and restored the current space, a 1915 folk Victorian home, into a proper tearoom. One of the oldest buildings in Lake Alfred, the home previously belonged to a packing house owner, then a dance teacher, and became a funeral home before its tearoom transformation.


“Our family has always had a deep appreciation for the arts and rich cultural imports of world cuisine. [...] Like [Anthony] Bourdain says, ‘Food is everything we are. It’s inseparable from our personal history.’ The tearoom, more specifically, is an instinctive mix of my family’s petitioning for a better life and their love for creation. And hospitality and food service have been our way of demonstrating that while cherishing community and delivering honesty in a peaceful and idyllic setting,” said Tabina.



Born and raised in Polk County, Tabina went on to study neuroscience and history at Columbia University in New York, then spent time at Parsons School of Design. She spent a decade traveling before returning to her Lake Alfred home. “To come back has been a great opportunity for me to bring my personal vision and seeker’s joy into promoting the development of our family business and tearoom brand.”


Described as a “lifestyle destination,” the tearoom offers a relaxed-pace meal and tea service, a specialty gift shop, and a garden to explore. House florist Teresa Burr creates centerpieces, wreaths, and floral displays throughout the tearoom. She’s fashioned a world of flowers dripping from teacup chandeliers and women dressed in greenery gowns. The gift shop supports artisanal craftsmen, jewelers, florists, and unique designers and makers, with a varied and everchanging selection of loose-leaf teas, teacups and teapots, home goods, cards, jewelry, cookbooks, children’s toys, and more.


A DREAM THAT BECAME REAL

“I don’t want to be self-aggrandizing and say it’s a slice of heaven or Polk County’s best-kept secret. But I do believe running a family-style business where deep love and honesty is the artistic imperative sets this place apart from the banality of it being our day job,” said Tabina.


“It’s mostly a dream that became real and inspires dreamers daily, versus selling someone a dream. At the heart of it all is the Rumi quote, ‘Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.’ My mother has a gentle approach and ability for drawing out beauty in the simplest of things. Her natural style, elegance, and attention to detail were at the heart of the tearoom’s transformation, evolving over the years into the strong ethos maintained today. Love is still at the root of all her hard work.


Manager and baker Cecily Arbuthnot said, “It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. The staff is very connected.” The tearoom team considers each other family. They often have dinner together after hours, celebrate birthdays, and go on outings together. Many Lavender ‘n Lace staff have been with the restaurant for nearly 30 years, like chief/head of operations Ricker and Carleen, the in-house coordinator.


YOU HAD ME AT LEMON CHIFFON

Cecily Arbuthnot grew up visiting the tearoom. “I’ve been baking since I was very small with my grandmother,” she said. The baker drives from Orlando at 4 am each day to prepare their desserts, including 11 from-scratch cakes. A guest favorite is the Hummingbird Cake, a spice cake with pineapple, banana, and pecans dressed with layers of cream cheese frosting. Tying for top dessert spot with the Hummingbird Cake is a recipe written entirely by Arbuthnot, the Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake. “It’s a three-layer cake. The top and the bottom layer are lemon chiffon, and the middle is a whole blueberry cheesecake, and it’s got cream cheese frosting. That’s my favorite one to make,” she said. In addition to the scones, chocolate cakes, and tortes regularly on the menu, Cecily makes seasonal treats too. For Valentine’s Day, she whips up truffles and cookies to sell on the shelves.


Where a typical tearoom might offer tastes in miniature, with small bites and dainty treats, Lavender ‘n Lace has a full menu with substantive comfort and cross-cultural offerings. “Our menu is inspired by southern nouvelle cuisine and backstreet culinary influences from the Mediterranean and Caribbean,” said Tabina. Each item is prepared in-house using fresh ingredients. “Our chefs and hospitality team at Lavender ’n Lace push beyond the conceptualization of a traditional tearoom — surprising guests with sheer dedication and creativity. We are constantly reinventing and reimagining the guest experience here,” said Tabina.


For the full Lavender ‘n Lace experience, Tabina recommends starting with a soup, like their signature cream of asparagus. Tea is a must, and Tabina suggests an iced Bella Coola or hot creamy earl gray. The tea is served in a teapot with a strainer atop the cup and dish to rest it on. “You’ll notice a difference with loose leaf tea. It’s much fresher,” said Arbuthnot. Their tea list is extensive, with black teas, herbal teas, green teas, and more.


For lunch, Tabina suggests the curry or pan-seared salmon in a lemon caper sauce served with basmati rice and finishing with a slice of hummingbird cake or a chocolate ganache torte for dessert. “There’s a lot of versatility with our menu, just between texture and ingredients alone,” she said.


“Our family and core staff have been cultivating this space for 30 years, so our livelihood is pretty much an expression of self. Drawing upon travels and diasporic experiences within an English garden setting, it’s a testament to community and the trade of artists and visionaries,” said Tabina Bajwa.


Lavender ‘n Lace Tearoom & Restaurant

430 N Lake Shore Way, Lake Alfred

(863) 956-3998

FB @lavendernlacetearoom

IG @lavendernlacef


Photography by Amy Sexson



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