| The Tuscaloosa News
From an original location in Essex Square to the tripled space of Town Center, and into the downtown Tuscaloosa location across from Hotel Indigo, Heritage House Coffee and Tea tries to fit with its surroundings.
So the upcoming Heritage House, under construction at the entrance to the Townes of North River subdivision, will be slightly more upscale, though still following the Tuscaloosa-born business’s cozy aesthetic of vintage and mismatched furnishings, where customers settle in to enjoy made-from-scratch pastries, and a cornucopia of coffees and teas.
With construction expected to be complete by summer 2021, the new Heritage House will be slightly smaller than the other two locations — Essex Square closed for the move to Town Center, and the contract to operate a smaller spot within Alberta’s Gateway lapsed last year — and designed with an English pub feel, said owner Rebekah Wanstall.
“Though it’s not going to be dark, like an English pub,” she said. That welcoming feel fits in with her vision of the Heritage House locations as a comfortable refuge, for people to sit and caffeinate, enjoy baked goods, work, read, study or just visit with each other and her hand-picked staff.
“It’s like ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name,” she said. “Like ‘Cheers’ without alcohol.”
Though she had neither business nor culinary backgrounds, Wanstall bought Heritage House in 2005 from previous owner Brenda Swindall, who had several offers for the Essex Square store. The original Heritage House opened in 1994; Swindall was the second owner.
“My daughter worked for Brenda, and I used to go visit there,” Wanstall said. “I liked the atmosphere, and thought it ‘It’d be really fun to do this one day.’ “
Wanstall ran a tight ship to start, not even paying herself a salary, but when the economy began to slow several years back, she sought to expand.
“At Essex Square, we only had 1,200 square feet,” she said. “We could fit 25 people in there on a good day.
“I thought I’d had a good business before, but when we opened up at Town Center, it exploded. It was just crazy.”
The 4,000-square foot space opened up possibilities not just for the kitchen, but out on the floors, where an eclectic gathering of tables, chairs and bar-tops creates a den-like feel, complete with fireplace in the main room. Spacious windows look out onto outdoor seating, and around back a pickup window kept the business going when in-person visits had to stop, earlier in the pandemic.
That at-home look was partly choice, and partly necessity, Wanstall said.
“When i started at Town Center, I had no money, so we just kind of found what we could find, and it worked,” she said. “I don’t like the matching of everything. I just feel like that’s super sterile.”
She cut back on high-end gifts, a staple of the earlier business, so as not to tie up funds, and…