By Hillari DeSchane – Photographed by Stephen Browning
There’s a legend about the dragonfly that says the jewel-like creature symbolizes change and self-realization. The kind of change that heralds maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
The dragonfly serves a long apprenticeship, spending years hidden underwater, growing, refining itself, before it unfurls its gossamer wings and flies free, a graceful ornament to its surroundings.
Go beneath the surface of Judy Robinson’s path to opening her Dragonfly Tea Room in Modesto’s Roseburg Square and you’ll find more than a few parallels with the namesake mascot.
The Dragonfly Tea Room’s May 5, 2018 grand opening was the culmination of Robinson’s own long apprenticeship. Nearly ten years ago, Robinson found herself alone and seeking a new start. She was faced with the chance and the challenge to recreate her life—a life that would more accurately reflect who she was becoming, and what she hoped to achieve.
Then Providence intervened. As Robinson remembers, “To get out of a freak hail storm in Columbia, I went into Columbia Kate’s. I was like, ‘wow! This is totally cool. I could see myself doing this!’” Even though she had been a lifelong tea drinker, “Never coffee,” Robinson laughs, still, “I never was really familiar with the afternoon tea concept.” She began researching, studying, developing.
Eventually she attended the multi-day business boot camp at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, “A crash course in teas and tea tasting, tea science,” Robinson describes.
“I had my epiphany—I can do this!” But the goal was still a daunting one for this newcomer to the restaurant world. Robinson says her faith is what enabled her to surmount her fears. “God has walked with me through all of this and I absolutely could not have had the courage to take each step without Him guiding me.”
From Tent To Tearoom
Robinson’s apprenticeship progressed to holding tea parties in her home for a few friends. She became a merchant at Modesto’s Farmer’s Market, a key stage in her metamorphosis from tea enthusiast to professional tea merchant. “It taught me how to run a business.”
Robinson chose the eventual site of her tearoom with care, seeking “the right feel of the location, the neighborhood environment, is there business and foot traffic all day long.” When she found the empty storefront in Roseburg Square, her reaction was, “This place is hopping!”
Today, a scant year and a half after opening, the Dragonfly Tea Room has become a customer favorite for its airy decor, wide, sunny windows, and welcoming staff. Themed events such as the Mother’s Day Tea, and parties for parents and children such as last Christmas’s Sugar Plum Fairy tea starring the dancers of Central West Ballet, book up well in advance. Robinson also conducts tea classes, and hosted a summer concert series featuring high school musicians.
And then there’s the food. Did we mention the homemade, locally-sourced food? “I really like planning the afternoon tea recipes, going beyond just sandwiches and desserts,” Robinson says, citing her cherry tomato goat cheese and ricotta tartlet, or summer squash fritatta.
“We make all our own jams. We’re trying to showcase the summer fruit.” Their house-baked cream scones reflect the seasons, like orange cranberry at Christmas and chocolate cherry for Valentine’s Day. They also make their own syrups, such as jasmine or mint, for their sparkling ice tea blends.
Now Robinson is rising to a new challenge, as the caterer for the upcoming Modesto JaneCon’s ‘Champagne Tea at Mansfield Park’ in January 2020. For this exclusive event on stage at the historic State Theatre, Robinson is hard at work planning an experience that will transport guests back to Jane Austen’s elegant Regency-era world. She is even researching tea blends that might have been drunk and enjoyed by Jane Austen herself.
“It’s been a huge learning curve,” Robinson says, of the birth and development of her Dragonfly Tea Room. Like her mascot, she continues to challenge herself to fly higher. It’s not easy, but it’s a labor of love and service to her customers and her community. L
For More Information:
The Dragonfly Tea Room, Roseburg Square,
835 W. Roseburg Avenue, Modesto, DragonflyTearoom.net
209.622.0811 Reservations available on line
Modesto JaneCon, Featuring Mansfield Park: The Opera,
Added attraction, Champagne Tea at Mansfield Park
January 11-12, 2020, Information at ModestoJaneCon.com