Enjoying Chico's T Bar & Fusion Cafe
By Kimberly Boney
by Kimberly Bonéy
Photo: Paula Schultz
It’s hard not to think of high-society ladies in enormous hats and lace gloves, sitting demurely, pinky fingers extended as they sip from cups and saucers made of bone china at the mere mention of the word “tea.” For centuries, tea has been more associated with aristocracy than with everyday people. But for one Chico couple, Shelly and Lance Blanshei, it was high time to break the rules of tea drinking. The T Bar & Fusion Café took the tradition and turned it on its ear, making the joy of tea – and its health benefits – accessible to people from all walks of life.
It’s been 20 years since the Blansheis pioneered successful Chico-based coffee shop Bidwell Perk. Eleven years ago, they decided to try their hand at tea when Lance, a marketing and advertising specialist, began to see its potential to become “the next big idea.” After three or four years of simultaneously maintaining Bidwell Perk and T Bar & Fusion Café, the tea began to take over. The Blansheis sold Bidwell Perk and turned their focus entirely to bringing out the fun side of tea. In 2014, T Bar & Fusion Café opened a second Chico location, taking a more European approach in its design aesthetic.
The T Bar & Fusion Café began with a full tea menu and food, specializing, at that time, in rice and salad bowls, sushi and spring rolls. As the business grew, the sushi and spring rolls were replaced by wraps. The build-your-own, healthy lunch concept has been more than embraced in the busy Chico market over the years. What started off as a mostly female clientele has expanded to a diverse group that includes everyone from high school and college-age students to senior citizens – and everyone in between, including a steadily increasing number of male patrons.
While visitors to T Bar & Fusion Cafe can score a more traditional cup of tea, the unique blended tea options, including drinks with black, green or oolong infusions of the frozen, sparkling, iced and hot varieties, might just inspire even the most classic tea aficionado to take a chance on something new.
On a Saturday evening at the dinner hour, at the T Bar & Fusion Café’s downtown Chico location (affectionately called “The Mothership”), a middle-aged woman sits with her book, her legs comfortably extended on the wooden bench, sipping a hot tea from the “Steam Me” offerings.
A college student types away at his laptop, balancing his affection between a wrap and frozen tea. A young woman sits with her parents, the three talking and laughing over a table full of bowls and assorted teas – each one colorful and unique. And two weary travelers revel in the flavor of a shared wasabi ginger shrimp bowl, likely vowing to get their own next time.
The vibrant, citrus colored design concept isn’t customary for a tea house, and that’s all the more reason why patrons have fallen in love with the T Bar & Fusion Café—that, and the kind, warm smiles of the employees that have been specially selected to work there. Well-versed with regard to the offerings and genuine in their willingness to find the perfect fit for each customer, the employees stand out just as much as the deliciousness of the menu items.
Shelly’s driving mission, having come from a big Italian family, has been to create a special, welcoming environment for her patrons – a tradition that was started when the Blansheis opened Bidwell Perk. “I don’t hire people based on experience or what they know, but on their heart. Do they love others? Do they love to serve others? You can’t teach that. You can teach the rest of it,” Shelly says. She loves to work the register and truly believes that her staff not only brings out the best in her customers, but in each other: “We take care of each other, like family.”
T Bar & Fusion Café Locations
215 Vallombrosa Ave., Chico
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10am to 9pm;
Sunday, 11am to 8pm
555 Flying V St., #1, Chico
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 9pm;
Sunday, 11am to 8pm