There are teapots everywhere in Frances and Ron Aldens Tea Room Cafe.
They fill the shelves and crowd the windowsills in all shapes and sizes cats, ducks, sewing machines, a purse, an elephant, a lighthouse, even a musical teapot with a twirling ballerina.
I think there are about 1,500, said Frances, but thats a rough guess. And I have maybe 100 more at home.
There werent any here when we started, she said. Not a single one.
The Aldens bought the cafe in 1984. The landlord told me Nobodys ever made it here, Frances recalled. I told him Well, Im going to make it.
I had a restaurant and bakery in North Carolina for several years and I ran a doughnut shop in Seattle, so I knew I could do it, she continued.
We paid our first rent payment in one dollar bills just to show him.
Ron wasnt crazy about the name, added Frances (the cafe was called The Tea Room when the Aldens bought it), but I didnt want to change it. Customers were familiar with it.
I told him, Its a tea room. We need some teapots.
Rons father, Ed Alden, who lived in Eugene, took the hint and started buying teapots at garage sales.
Hed come see us every six weeks with a box of teapots, Frances said. It was like Christmas every time hed come.
A neighbor of Eds, Eva Woods, also started collecting for the Aldens.
Shes been giving us 30-40 every six months for three or four years, said Frances. She called me not long ago and wanted to know When are you coming to get these teapots? I cant even get in my bed. Its full of teapots, Frances said, laughing.
An antique brass teapot Eva found is one of the more unusual styles in the cafe. It has space underneath for a lump of coal to keep the tea hot, Frances explained.
A lighthouse and a purse-shaped teapot are two other distinctive contributions from Eva. She tries not to duplicate a style, Frances said.
The Aldens estimate half their teapots were gifts from customers.
I had one lady in her 90s who gave me a teapot she played with as a child. She told me her mother played with it, too. That brought tears to my eyes, said Frances.
I keep that one at home because its so special, she added. We think it came to Oregon in a covered wagon.
The tiny teapot, which was made in Japan, is decorated with pink roses.
A ceramic teapot with double handles often draws comments from customers. A friend who owns a gift shop gave it to Frances.
One man tried and tried to talk me into selling it to him, she said. I told him, I cant sell it. Its a gift.
Ron finally told him he could have it for $150,000 but hed have to take the restaurant with it.
Traveling customers bring teapots to the Aldens from near and far. The Minnie Mouse teapot came from Disneyland and a teapot decorated with golden strawberries came from Russia.
The Russian one even has instructions in Russian on how to make tea, said Frances.
Most of the Aldens teapots dont make it to the table.
Ive never served tea in pots at the shop, said Frances. Itd be too hard to keep them clean and intact day to day.
Frances said she has loaned teapots to the high school, churches and the Girl Scouts for special events. At Christmas she brings 25 holiday teapots out of storage to decorate the cafe tables.
Washing the teapots is an event in itself. We wash them all once a year, when we close for two weeks at Thanksgiving, Frances said.
It took me five days last time, recalled employee Mary Jane Brookfield, who said taking down all the pots, washing, drying and replacing them gives her a chance to enjoy her favorites.
I love the animal ones like the duck, she said, describing a duck dressed in a skirt and bonnet.
Although they dont pour tea from pots in the collection, customers do enjoy other specialties of the house.
Ginger chicken salad is popular. Its a recipe from the former owner, Frances said.
She saw the recipe in a magazine and adapted it. Its the dressing that makes it. We bottle the dressing, she added. People use it for marinade, too.
Baked goods also fly off the shelves. People like the marble brownies, said Frances. And I probably make 30 pies a week. Lemon meringue is a big seller.
Frances, one of 13 children from a big Southern family, bakes all the desserts herself. Ron does the daily ordering and bookkeeping. The two start work early, between 3:30 and 4 a.m.
My mother cooked all the time, Frances said. She had to. She liked to cook desserts. She let us experiment and cook if we wanted to. She never complained about all the messes. I can remember standing on a chair to stir candy because I wasnt tall enough.
I enjoy cooking. Im very lucky to have a job making a living at what I like to do.
Frances confessed she doesnt think each and every teapot in The Tea Room is beautiful but admitted she cant turn any away. Look, she said pointing to a wall in the cafes new addition, theres room for another shelf over there.
Well always have room for one more.
The Tea Room, located at 434 Redwood St. in the Abbey Mall, is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call (541) 469-7240 for information.