Chef Monica Pope and her friends are creating a new collaborative cafe in Houston

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Chief Monica Popea double time James Beard Award Semi-Finalist, reverts to a dedicated brick and mortar. Telegram tea room set to open Dec. 1 at 2601 Baylor in Sunset Heights. Pope, which is best known for its restaurants T’afia, Sparrow Bar + Cookshop (which lives as Pope’s ready meals service) and Boulevard Bistrot, moved away from restaurant kitchens when it closed Sparrow Bar + Cookshop in 2016, but has continued to have a presence on Houston’s foodie scene with cooking classes, pop-ups and in as a vendor at local farmers’ markets.

Pope is no stranger to farmers markets. During her days at T’afia, she was a pioneer of Houston’s farm-to-table movement and hosted a weekly Saturday Farmer’s Market there for years. She continued down that path at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, which closed six years ago.

Since closing his last restaurant, Pope has battled breast cancer and won, and was something of a nomadic cook hosting dinners and events around Houston, while maintaining close relationships with local food producers. Telegram Tearoom will provide Pope and his patrons with a consistent, albeit non-traditional, home base for his work. Pope said she would never open another restaurant and calls Telegram Tearoom a “non-restaurant”. Instead, it’s a hybrid, combining an all-day bakery, a tea room, and “a community-inspired food space and listening room.” Consultant Hilary Hunt help with the design.

Chef Monica Pope and Hilary Hunt discuss the interior design of the Telegram tea room. Photo by Landon Wright Photography.

The menu is quite complete and divided according to meal times: hot and take-out breakfasts and lunches from 7:30 a.m. then tea time and cold bites from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Telegram Teahouse will not have regular dinner hours. However, the Pope will periodically organize special events ONE Table Dinner Series events. There are already tickets on sale for some scheduled on Sunday evening. The cost is $100 per person, which includes beer, wine, or soft drinks, and events will often feature a collaborator.

The take-out bakery case will include scones baked to order, Australian meat pies with beef spiced with cumin and ginger, brisket kolash and freshly baked Handmade pasture butter baguette, jam, ham and pickle butter. More comprehensive entries include Skillet Grass-Fed Sausage Bolognese on the grain, green shakshuka, sisig Filipino (“dirty rice”), smoked salmon toast in a hash brown crust with whipped feta and gribiche sauce and chilli chilli noodles.

Desserts include Cakes by guest pastry chefs, keto chocolate mousse and popsicles made with goat’s milk All we need. An assortment of cooking pots, pudding and fools will be available to leave.

Having a brick and mortar again, Pope says: “It’s come full circle. It fits my definition of sustainability – giving and giving until it feels like receiving. I received this gift, Telegram, and I do what I do; create a community room and place to connect. It’s not a traditional brick and mortar at all. With the cafe open all day and special experiences meant to connect the community, it’s the new way forward and a new business model.

John and Veronica Avilaowners of Henderson and Kane, help Pope with space. “We love Monica and we’ve done everything we can to make sure she has what she needs for the business,” Veronica said. “John and I came up with the concept and the name, and guided the design. Knowing that we’re going to the farmers market a few blocks away, we see opportunities for the two places to work together and nurture one of the other.

As you would expect from its long history, the dishes offered by Pope will be seasonal, constantly changing and made with local ingredients. As the name suggests, there will be tea, but also coffee, wine, beer and other beverages.

Monica Pope and Tim Smith
Chef Monica Pope and her long-time collaborator Chef Tim Smith (background) work at a pop-up al fresco diner. Photo by Landon Wright Photography.

Among those assisting Pope are his longtime right-hand man, Chief Tim Smithand Brazos Bagels owner Zachary Jameswho is also a musician. “Tim brings his experience and passion for Monica’s cooking, while I’ll bring Brazos Bagel, the music side and my 20 years as a strategy and leadership consultant,” James explained.

Two of Telegram Tearoom’s first suppliers are local coffee roasters Sean Marshall of Fusion Beans and Karena Meyer of Drink Fuzz, a low- and non-alcohol bottle shop. Pope also plans to invite other local chefs, farmers, artists and artisans, writers, and health and wellness providers as vendors and/or attendees to the event. Among its features, Telegram Tearoom will have a shop to showcase local products and ingredients.

Zachary James at the Monica Pope event
Brazos Bagel owner Zachary James (center in blue shirt and hat) is one of the local business owners helping Monica Pope with Telegram Tearoom. Photo by Landon Wright Photography.

Tuesday evenings, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Pope welcomes him Story Thyme Cooking Class. The cost is $100, which includes “a spontaneous evening of local and seasonal dishes” and drinks. As of this writing, one of the December classes is already full.

Once Telegram Tearoom has had time to establish itself, Pope wants to expand the brand and incorporate a multimedia aspect with Telegram Sounds, a platform for a podcast and record label offering “a series of discreet and intimate musical performances , which will explore the connections between music, food, creativity, expression and community.

After spending six years following Pope through sporadic foodie events, take-out meals and farmer’s market appearances, it seems certain his fans will be thrilled to finally have a public place to visit again.

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