The pandemic has been tough on small businesses, but two couples have brought a pair of formerly popular gathering places in the heart of downtown Eugene back to life.
Eric and Karen Nelson reopened The Barn Light on Feb. 26. in the Broadway Commerce Center, at Broadway and Willamette Street. A few weeks later, Dominic and Angela Valdes opened Tea Chai Té around the corner on West Broadway, in the space that until last fall had been Townshend’s Tea Co.
Previous customers of both businesses are stopping by and happily telling the new owners they are glad to see the bar and tea shop open again.
“A lot of people are excited about us reopening,” Eric Nelson said. “I have been pleasantly surprised by the reception.”
“We have felt very welcomed,” Angela Valdes said.
Different reasons led the couples to open the businesses, but both saw opportunity in downtown, especially with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the promise of employees returning to offices in the heart of the City. Their entrepreneurial spirit and decisions to invest in downtown will help the area retain its place as the City’s arts and entertainment center.
The Valdeses, of Portland, are experienced tea shop owners. The couple opened the first Tea Chai Té in Portland in 2003. They now have four in Portland and one in Eugene. Tea Chai Té comes from the word for tea in English, Hindi and Spanish.
The tea shop has an extensive menu of hot and cold drinks, including those made from black, green and oolong teas, as well as chai blends, yerba mate, rooibos, bubble teas, and herbal infusions. Customers can order their drinks online before they get to the shop or while they are standing in line.
The Valdeses spent several weekends remodeling the space at 41 W. Broadway before they opened Tea Chai Té on March 12. Angela Valdes is an artist who provides artwork and interior design for the shops
The Eugene shop has new furniture, Angela Valdes’ art on the walls, strings of overhead LED lights, and a pair of wall-mounted curtain-style light displays that change color, all of which brighten the interior.
“We try and create spaces where people can zone out or relax,” Angela Valdes said. “People who are working or studying can have a place to have tea and not feel pressure to leave. We don’t rush people off. We understand that people are coming here to take a break from life in some way.”
The Barn Light, 924 Willamette St., first opened in 2012, one of the earliest tenants in the-then recently renovated Broadway Commerce Center. The previous owners, Thomas Pettus-Czar and Mark Sheppard, who also own Farmers Union Coffee Roasters on East Fifth Avenue, closed the bar last March.
The Nelsons owned Sam’s Seaside Café in Seaside for nearly 25 years before selling it and moving to Eugene to be closer to one of their sons.
As they talked during morning walks with their dog, the couple decided that while they wanted to work together again, they did not want to own another full-service restaurant. However, the idea of owning a small gathering space, like a bar with limited food, began to appeal to them.
Then they learned about the availability of The Barn Light.
“We came down here and said, ‘Wow!’”, Eric Nelson said. “‘This is exactly what we have been talking about,’ and we just couldn’t resist.”
The Nelsons have not changed the Pacific Northwest rustic interior of The Barn Light, except adding two TVs for sports fans. The business opens at 2 p.m., but the Nelsons expect to open at 10 a.m. starting in April.
In addition to the full bar and coffee drinks, The Barn Light is offering homemade light fare created by Karen Nelson, such as sandwiches, chilis, salads, and curry dishes.
“We buy everything locally and make food from scratch,” Eric Nelson said.
The Barn Light’s former owners say they are thrilled that the Nelsons -- experienced restaurateurs -- acquired the business and reopened it.
“We met with other interested parties as buyers, but none of them seemed like a good fit until Karen and Eric came along,” Pettus-Czar said. “It meant a lot to us, too, that they decided to keep the name and brand that we built over the last eight years, and they will continue to operate it as a bar.”
The Barn Light, 924 Willamette St.
The Barn Light Cafe & Bar (thebarnlightbar.com)
Tea Chai Té, 41 W. Broadway
Eugene, Oregon Tea Shop - Tea Chai Té (teachaite.com)
Dominic and Angela Valdes on March 12 opened Tea Chai Té at 41 W. Broadway, their first tea shop outside of Portland.
Eric and Karen Nelson, the new owners of The Barn Light, are encouraged by the positive response to their reopening of the popular bar near Broadway and Willamette.