High tea in J-town

Photograph of Crown & Crumpet co-owner Amy Dean by Frank Wing

Photograph of Crown & Crumpet co-owner Amy Dean by Frank Wing

By FRAN JOHNS

Proper English tea in the heart of Japantown? It happens on any given day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Crown & Crumpet in the New People building at 1746 Post Street.

Japantown was not even on the radar of owners Amy and Christopher Dean when they were looking for a new location for their popular tea shop. They had opened in Ghirardelli Square in 2008, but five years later, when the rents there began skyrocketing, New People’s management proposed that the shop would be a good fit with its eclectic assortment of businesses and activities, from festivals and theater events to Japanese fashion.

An unusual cross-cultural match was made.

Amy Dean grew up in San Francisco, part of the socially prominent Denebeim family, whose business interests included the Bank of London, and she became an Anglophile at an early age. After attending Convent of the Sacred Heart and Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco and Franklin University in Switzerland, she read history at Oxford and lived in the U.K. for two decades.

By 2000, she wanted to be near her family in San Francisco. So she returned, bringing along her very British husband Christopher, an antiques and porcelain dealer.

“My godmother Lillian Williams had an antiques shop on Sutter Street downtown, La Ville du Soleil, for many years,” Dean says. When Williams retired, Dean was left many of that shop’s wares. So she and her husband opened La Place du Soleil on Polk Street near Union, offering mostly French and English antiques. They ran it from 2000 to 2007.

“We sold tea in the back, but we wanted to serve snacks, too,” says Dean. “When Chris’s aunt died and left us a bit of money, we decided to open a totally British tea shop.”

And so the original Crown & Crumpet at Ghirardelli Square came into being.

At the current Post Street location, the shop’s crumpets — made to order and imported daily — are the only pastries not made onsite by head pastry chef Amanda Elkins. The menu also features savories including hot pressed sandwiches, soup and salad pairings, sausage rolls and chicken pot pie, as well as toast with several different toppings.

Crumpet524

Libations include coffees and varieties of tea that cover an entire page on the menu. On hand to guide the customer through the offerings are a number of “trolley dollies” and “trolley dandies” — terms the Deans adapted from a 1960s London phrase for servers who pushed trolleys down the aisles of jumbo jets.

The decor is definitely English, with china tableware bearing the Crown & Crumpet logo and silverware in mismatched patterns to keep things interesting. But the clientele is invariably a mixture of locals from nearby senior residences, teenagers drinking hot chocolate in lively clusters and tourists from Japan and points all over. The front window showcases offerings from the building’s Baby, The Stars Shine Bright boutique featuring Lolita fashions, a style originating in Japan based on Victorian and Edwardian clothing with Gothic and Rococo influences.

“Our co-anchor in the building is Lolita fashion, which is a reflection of modern Japan,” Amy Dean says. “Afternoon tea is another important part of the modern Japanese culture.”

It is easy to have afternoon tea in the traditional Japanese manner in one of the traditional Japanese shops in the neighborhood — or in the English manner at Crown & Crumpet, though the place is often booked for several weeks in advance.

But the energetic Deans have a great deal more going on at Crown & Crumpet than serving tea — including catering and private parties, mostly birthday parties and bridal showers, in the back room. On the last Sunday of each month, they host “Planner Par-Teas,” at which people who are into monthly planners create and decorate them while having tea and
scones.

And at other times, they partner with the Sir Francis Drake Hotel to present afternoon tea dances, host onsite crafts events, calligraphy classes and “manners classes” — etiquette for children, tweens, teens and even adults.