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Antioch still in couple's tea leaves

Tearoom closes after decade in business

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 11:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(David Giuliani/dgiuliani@shawmedia.com)
Kenelm "Ken" Scheske makes scones in the kitchen at Infini-tea in Antioch as his wife, Lorrie Ferguson, looks on. They met at PM&L Theater more than 20 years ago and remain active with it.
Caption
(David Giuliani/dgiuliani@shawmedia.com)
Lorrie Ferguson and Kenelm "Ken" Scheske recently closed Infini-tea in Antioch after a decade in business. They said they had gone all that time without a vacation.

ANTIOCH – Lorrie Ferguson was standing outside her now-closed restaurant, Infini-tea, on a recent day. A friend came by, asking, "Are you open tomorrow?"

"No, we're done," she told him. "We're moving on to other things."

He was disappointed.

For 10 years, she and her husband Kenelm "Ken" Scheske ran the business on Antioch's Main Street, a downtown chock full of mom-and-pop eateries. A tea room, though, is a rare breed. Few towns have them, especially small ones.

Inside Infini-tea, near the front door, were shelves holding 80 small bottles with cork tops. Customers could smell them and decide which ones they wanted, with Orange Spice and Prairie Passion among the most popular.

The restaurant had a European feel, with elaborately decorated walls (which, by the way, extended to the restrooms). Down the street is PM&L Theater, where Ken and Lorrie met more than two decades ago.

Still active in the nonprofit theater, Ken takes care of technical aspects, while Lorrie acts, most recently in "Fiddler on the Roof."

The two both used to work for pharmaceutical firm Abbott. Lorrie, 64, retired from there in 2003, while Ken, 61, got caught up in Abbott's layoffs more than a year ago and now works as a controls technician for a manufacturer of commercial coffee roasters.

Running a small business, the couple said, is no easy job. With the down economy since 2008, people tried to find any deal they could, particularly with Groupon, putting pressure on the business. Making matters worse, a mom-and-pop restaurant can't get the bulk deals that the chains can, they said.

Plus, running a business meant they had very little spare time.

"It's been 10 years without a vacation," Ken said.

They said they appreciated their customers' loyalty.

"Most of our customers became friends," she said. "When we took that economic dip, we said we would do what it took to stay open. We second-mortgaged, we took out loans."

Both said they remain committed to the town, where Ken graduated from high school.

"This is our heart," Lorrie said. "Could we have done better in Lake Forest? Probably, but that's not our town."

Both are certified tea masters by the American Tea Masters Association.

Despite her love of tea, Lorrie said she likes her coffee in the morning – "I'm an American."

"Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world," Lorrie said. "People are looking for things that are more health conscious. They are sick of coffee. You can get gourmet coffee at the gas station. It's not so special anymore."

Officially, Lorrie and Ken co-owned the restaurant, but Lorrie was more involved because of Ken's other job. His specialty at Infini-tea was making scones, a popular treat at the restaurant.

Before opening Infini-tea in 2004, the couple refurbished the space, building the kitchen and a second restroom and doing the electrical work. They are now looking to sell it.

"We've had some nibbles, but nothing serious yet," he said.

The online portion of their business remains at infini-tea.net, where they still sell teas.

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