Cover Story: Incredible Journeys, Part 3: Shelly’s Tea Rooms

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Opening your own business is part of the American dream, the ideal for which equal opportunity is available to any American. That dream has also attracted aspiring entrepreneurs from around the world. The Cape Cod and Plymouth region is full of many of these successful entrepreneurs who came to the area from other countries. As we celebrate Independence Day this year, we take a look at their journeys.

Shelly’s Tea Rooms, Plymouth

It might not seem like too much of a cultural change for a pair of Brits to travel across the pond and set up a business in America, but it turned out to be more of a challenging journey than Sean and Shelly Sinclair had envisioned.

Sean and Shelly Sinclair 1The Sinclairs had owned and operated two tea rooms in England for more than 10 years until a vacation in the U.S. changed their career plans. 

Shellys Tea Room tea 1“We fell in love with America!” said Shelly. 

The couple returned several times and explored both coasts and many states in between. They chose Plymouth for their American tea shop after learning about the town’s ties to England via the Pilgrims. They applied for an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa, part of the family of U.S. visas available to citizens or nationals of  more than 30 countries that have trade treaties with the United States. Individuals with significant funds to invest can come to the U.S with an E-2 visa to set up a business, practice or office.

Everything was going according to plan and they signed the papers in January 2020 to buy a former insurance company space at 51 Court St., in bustling downtown Plymouth. But the pandemic hit in March, making it impossible for the Sinclairs to come abroad and creating a lot of headaches. They persevered through endless permitting (“There were fees for everything!” Sean said), the visa application process, business insurance, and remotely designing the interior of the space and buying furniture. Not to mention they had to find a house to buy in a tight and expensive housing market and catch up with vaccinations required for their son to attend middle school.  

They were able to build up anticipation for their eventual opening with a banner proclaiming “the British are coming” outside the tea room.

A month after finally securing their business visa, Shelly’s Tea Rooms opened on Feb. 23, 2022, Massachusetts’ first authentic English tea rooms, and the Sinclairs have been well-received by customers and working seven days a week since. The welcoming space seats about 40 people. All food is made on the premises including the clotted cream. Besides delectable scones, cakes and tea sandwiches, the many choices of a tea would make any patron’s head spin, but Shelly, decked out in her polka dot frock and broad smile happily explains it all. Customers can also browse the small gift area, filled with British tschotskes and pose by a picture of Queen Elizabeth near the loo. Two clocks on the wall indicate London and Plymouth time.

“It’s turned out better than we hoped,” said Shelly. “We’re still trying to get the hang of when the busy times will be.”

Another issue was that the flour is different here (higher protein content) than what’s used in England and Shelly had to experiment to get the best one for her trademark scones, for example.

While they speak a common language, the nuances between British and American English words and pronunciations can be amusingly confusing. 

“Your roads here are a doddle!” exclaimed Shelly, meaning “easy.” They’ve found the local traffic quite nice compared to the busy streets where they lived in England. (they have not ventured onto Route 95, however…). 

“I was surprised the cars stopped at the crosswalk to let me walk across the street,” said Sean. “That would have been unheard of in Cambridge, England!”

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