On November 22, Atlanta singer-songwriter Doria Roberts grabbed her acoustic guitar and treated a packed audience to her rendition of Odetta’s Christmas song “Beautiful Star” at the Alliance Theatre’s black box stage for the pilot recording of “Kudzu,” a new podcast series created by playwright Topher Payne. When she finished, Roberts’ wife, Atlanta chef and restaurateur Calavino Donati, seated in the front row, led the applause.
The performance for the invitation-only audience turned out to be Roberts’ final bow in Atlanta — for now.
Last Sunday, the couple who owns Tipple & Rose Tea Parlor and Apothecary in Virginia-Highland notified customers the popular shop would be closing permanently on Dec. 8. Later this month, the couple will relocate to New Jersey to be closer to Roberts’ mother, who suffered a stroke and a heart attack earlier this year.
The couple’s Urban Cannibals and Madre + Mason restaurant concept at 368 5th Street in Midtown, now run by staff trained by Donati, will remain open and serving up plates of her signature turkey meatloaf, jalapeno tequila gravy and other longtime menu favorites.
Donati and Roberts’ departure represents a huge blow to both the city’s dining and music scene.
Donati arrived here in 1995 to open her trailblazing restaurant Roman Lily in the city’s then-dilapidated Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. A year later, just before the Olympics, Roberts moved here from Philadelphia to assist a pregnant cousin and after winning a singer-songwriter shoot-out contest at Eddie’s Attic, decided to relocate here, becoming instantly endeared to the city’s acoustic music fans. By 1999, she was touring with Sarah McLachlan as part of Lilith Fair.
Between hugs from regulars and finalizing logistics with movers on Thursday, Donati and Roberts sat down at a back table inside Tipple & Rose to discuss their departure and to reflect on their longtime relationship with Atlanta.
“Before Doria even mentioned it, I was on realtor.com looking for places for us to live in New Jersey,” says Donati. “I love her more than my restaurants and my home. And I love the people she loves. I told her, ‘We need to go and take care of your mom.’ It was an immediate decision.”
Adds Roberts: “We have this running joke with the people at the grocery store where we shop who ask us, ‘Does she ever say no to you?’ The truth is, she really doesn’t. She knew how important this was to me.”
In addition to Roman Lily’s iconic decade-long run in Old Fourth Ward (encroaching gentrification in the neighborhood tripled the restaurant’s rent and forced it out in 2006), Donati also opened Calavino’s in Oakhurst, the pop up Calavino’s Soul Kitchen inside My Sister’s Room and later, Urban Cannibals in East Atlanta Village and Madre + Mason in Midtown. In 2015, they merged their Urban Cannibals bodega and Madre + Mason restaurant concepts together at 368 5th Street.
Once they get settled in central New Jersey, the couple plans to bring their Tipple & Rose tea concept —and Robert’s scone-baking skills — to the Garden State. “It might even be easier selling tea in New Jersey since it actually gets cold there!” says Roberts with a laugh.
Donati and Roberts aren’t ruling out a return to their adopted hometown someday. “I can’t imagine not feeding people in Atlanta,” says Donati. “But we just can’t do it right now.”
While searching for a city to open her first restaurant in 1995, Donati, then living in Key West, visited friends here for Christmas and came across an issue of Atlanta magazine. “I got exposed to the city’s restaurants, music, art, jewelry and clothing scenes and then friends took me to this [Virginia-Highland] neighborhood and I was hooked,” she says.
After touring multiple restaurant spaces, Donati’s landlord told her about a building he had purchased in Atlanta’s then-transitional Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. Donati walked past the drug dealers and prostitutes, surveyed the space with the collapsing floor and the falling in ceiling and immediately said, “I’ll take it.”
Recalls Donati: “The light was streaming through the window and even though it was streaming through dust particles, it had a magical effect. It felt right. I just visualized it right away. When you walked in, I could see this little half wall where I was standing there cooking. It felt like you were coming to my house. It felt like home.”
Through the end of their final high tea service this Sunday at Tipple & Rose, Roberts and Donati plan to hug on as many friends and old customers as possible as they serve their final freshly baked scones at the tea shop that first opened in 2015. Friends and fans are advised to stay connected through Tipple & Rose’s social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram for updates on future plans for the tea shop.
In their absence, Roberts says she hopes Atlantans will continue to nurture the next generation of creative spirits arriving in the city. “We need to support the new generation of young people who are creating restaurants in half burned out buildings and playing guitar in the park who want to bring something original to Atlanta,” says Roberts. “I hope Atlanta keeps its sense of adventure and continues to support independent businesses like this.”
Donati concedes she’s not good at goodbyes. “I’m a get in the car and drive away person,” she says, brushing away tears. “I prefer to pretend it never happened and pretend not to care. But if I did care, I would say I’m going miss feeding people in Atlanta. I’m going to miss seeing their faces walk in the door and them regaling their friends and their children with stories about a meal or an experience we’ve shared together over the years. I never fed customers. They were members of my family. And that’s what I’ll miss.”
Tipple & Rose Tea Parlor and Apothecary, located at 806 North Highland Ave. is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sunday, Dec. 8. For more info, go to tippleandrose.com.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.