Home Is Where You Feel Settled and Happy — Nicky Perry
NAME Nicky Perry
ROLE Owner of Tea & Sympathy
BIRTH CITY Sydney
CITIES LIVED IN New York, London
Why did you decide to move to New York?
When I was about 15 years old, I was in love with a rock star, Marc Bolan and was fascinated by the fact that he spent a lot of time in New York. I used to buy all the magazines to read about him. I also read a lot about all the famous cities in the US in the 1970s and had become obsessed with them. My mum got me here for week on my 21st birthday because of this. I loved it so much that about eight months later I came back with just $200 in my pocket and never went back.
How did you curate your sense of belonging in New York?
I don't know how but I just knew I belonged here even before I got here. And I absolutely loved it. It was quite scary in the beginning and I worked in a lot of restaurants for about nine years. During my third year in New York I got an idea about this restaurant and spent my coming years gaining experience and becoming legal. Once I got my green card, I opened Tea & Sympathy. Though I’ve always felt like I belonged here, it took some time for me to get settled. The time when I felt most settled was probably a year into my business. I knew my restaurant was going to work. I felt I had done the right thing and that my idea was a good one. Twenty-nine years later and here I am.
Why did you decide to start a restaurant?
I didn’t do very well in school and was diagnosed with ADD early on. I took a job to wait tables which I was nervous about, but surprisingly my managers praised me for my work and thought I was very good at it. I like going to tables and conversing with people. It makes sense to me. I never had a job in another industry; I only worked in restaurants in London and then in New York. It’s a part of me and I enjoy it a lot.
What does home mean to you?
Home is where you feel settled and happy. It’s a place where you don’t have that feeling that you want to be somewhere else to see if it would be better or regret leaving in the first place.
To me this is the greatest city, but it’s terrible now in New York. I don’t think it’s possible to do what I did back then if I came here now because this country has changed so much. It’s very expensive and it’s only a millionaire’s playground now. It has become very difficult to start your own business. It’s a terrible shame. But I still love it more than any other place in this world. I think New York is a city you fall madly in love with for many reasons. It’s very friendly, very accommodating and the one thing that I like the most about it is that Americans always support hard work and cheer you up! They are thrilled when someone does well.
Do you ever get homesick?
There are certain things that I miss but you get everything that you need here.
I’ve made my own England here and I’ve been here a very long time. We get a lot of Brits and homesick people at our restaurant. Often people come in here in tears and leave feeling happy. They are either missing their mom or someone else they love.
I wanted Tea & Sympathy to look like my living room and a place that looks like I’ve lived here for a hundred years. I wanted it to feel comfortable as opposed to being posh or uptight.
I want people to feel they are cared for. We don’t have the best service sometimes but I am interested in employing people who care about you as a person than having better skills. These are the values that matter to me.
How did you cheer yourself up during your down time?
Well, I’ve got a happy home life so I consider myself lucky. I have a 15-year-old daughter who is my energy right now. She’s great! As I have grown older, I am now no longer interested in going to parties, nightclubs or going out of town. I love being at home. I don’t have this desperate urge anymore to go out and meet everyone.
I am blessed with a life where I get to meet a lot of people throughout the day. My husband and I spend most of our time interacting with customers, caring for them and we love that. We spend quite a lot of time sitting outside, speaking to our neighbors as well, mostly about politics, with the hope that the situation gets better in the city.
Do you remember your first childhood home?
I remember it very vaguely. I have a memory from when I was six, my brother was four and my little sister might have been two. We went to see a house, which we ended up buying. I remember being fascinated by this house because all the door locks were crystal. And when you walked towards the kitchen, you had to pass a little room, which had sixteen cages on the wall with dogs in them. Even now, my family refers to that room as the dog room. That’s one of my earliest memories of my childhood home.