Published: 14/04/2017 14:30 - Updated: 14/04/2017 14:48

From Oz to Elphin for mother and daughter tearoom hosts

Helen and Ann O'Keefe with Merlin outside Elphin Tearooms.
Helen and Ann O'Keefe with Merlin outside Elphin Tearooms.

A mother and daughter have joined forces to re-launch a popular café in a remote Sutherland community.  

Ann and Helen O’Keefe, who hail from Western Australia, opened the doors of the Elphin Tearooms on Thursday, just in time for the Easter weekend.

Ann only moved to north west Sutherland a month ago and has since been helping her daughter prepare for the opening.

The pair fell in love with Scotland and particularly the north-west Highlands during a three week holiday in 2012 when they enjoyed a “whistle stop” tour of the country.

Helen is a mining engineer who graduated from the West Australian School of Mines and went on to work first at Kalgoorlie and then with a mining consulting company in Perth.

She returned to the north of Scotland for a second time in 2014 when she spent her time hill walking and meeting friends.

She said: “I got back to Australia and I thought that I did not want to be there any longer – I wanted to be in Scotland.”

At the end of March 2015, Helen achieved her dream and relocated from Australia to Scotland, staying first at Durness and then Kinlochbervie.

It was not long before she was appointed coordinator of the North West Highlands Geopark’s new Rock Stop coffee shop and exhibition at Unapool, Assynt.

She also met her partner, Brendan O’Hanrahan, who is standing as an Independent candidate for the north, west and central Sutherland ward in the May 4 local authority elections.

But Helen had also spotted that the Elphin Tearooms were for sale and felt it would be an ideal business opportunity.

She said: “I was really keen to have some land where I could grow things and be productive. Also, I really love proper tea, loose leaf tea. so the concept of a proper tea room really appealed to me.”

However, she did not have the funds to purchase the business herself and suggested to her mum that she might like to move across the world and run the business with her.

An intrepid Ann was keen to take up the challenge and the two have bought the tea rooms, a neighbouring house and the surrounding land.

Helen said: “She was ready for a change and loves it up here. She left her home in Bridgetown, Western Australia, where she has stayed for 25 years, all her friends and her dog. She has been a real gem.”

Located in an old croft house on the main A835 running through Elphin, the tearooms have been in operation for the last 30 years, but have not always opened regularly in the last few years.

Helen and Ann have not had to do much to the spacious restaurant, which has 36 covers, aside from some cosmetic work such as repainting. They have also installed some new equipment including a coffee machine.

Customers will have the choice of teas, coffees, hot chocolate and cold drinks as well as a range of home-made cakes, scones, muffins, biscuits and sweets. Light lunches such as soup and sandwiches are also on offer.

Helen said: “Everything is fresh and made from scratch. We are starting off small and want to get the basics right. Whatever we do, we want to do well and we will work our way up.

“We have got big plans for the future and are keen to offer speciality teas and afternoon teas. We want to make visiting the tea rooms a special experience.

“This is our first year and we are committed to putting in as many hours as we can and keeping the tea rooms open seven days a week. We want to provide a facility for the local community as well as for passing trade.”
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