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Homegrown Goodness

Updated: 15 hours ago

For some, the concept of a tea room is high-end and exclusive. But for the Saunders family,

and the grandson who is now carrying on the name and tradition, it’s a symbol of open

welcome. Food, for and from the soul.



In retrospect, Mark Saunders wishes he had asked for and collected the family recipes. But as the youngest of seven siblings, his moments observing his grandmother’s command of the kitchen were usually to dissuade him from mischief. Under her watchful eye, he would be commanded to fetch an ingredient or perform some other small act of assistance while the pots boiled and the oven warmed. Not a punishment, per se, but cooking was definitely not something that commanded his full attention at the time.


Saunders Tea Rom, then located in downtown Newark Delaware, was a modest operation.

Everything about it was homespun: the working-class clientele, the handwritten menus offering

daily specials of whatever was available and prepared. But there was a faithful following.

Mark’s grandmother feeding the patrons; his grandfather as the greeter, waiter, and any other

tasks needed to keep things flowing.


As the elder Saunders moved into their retirement years, the next generation wasn’t interested

in maintaining the brick-and-mortar space. So it closed. And Mark hadn’t yet caught the

culinary bug.


That didn’t happen until high school.


In his new ninth grade vocational program, students were offered rotations of a variety of

disciplines to expose them to options for further study. Mark remembers feeling the fire lit

during the culinary rotation, first because the class cooked meals for each other, and everyone

loves to eat. But there was also a connection to the instructor that gave Mark a sense of

purpose and direction. And when it came time to rotate into the next discipline, Mark flat-out

refused to do so. Thankfully, his stubbornness was seen as determination, and the school

decided to bend the rules to allow him to explore his newfound passion.


He continued to explore that passion into the military, a formal culinary program, as a sous

chef, a pastry chef, and then to launching his own personal chef business. Mark enjoyed

Caribbean flavors, so originally his business was named to reflect that style of cuisine. But his

grandparents’ influence came rushing back to him through one particular image of them,

standing in front of the former brick-and-mortar space.


Saunders Tea Room was his legacy.

Mark didn’t have their recipes, but he had muscle memory and taste recall of some of their

best dishes. The taste he could recreate through trial and error. The muscle memory had more

to do with an innovative method his grandfather used to store dry ingredients: used popcorn

tins.


Turns out that popcorn tins are not only attractive when lined up on a shelf, but they are also

airtight and spill proof. When Mark decided to purchase a food truck to expand his business,

he found that those tins were durable through the jostling around of travel, and safe enough to

pass state inspection.


With the opening of Wilmington Kitchen Collective, Mark is excited for the additional space and

flexibility to prep his meals. Like his grandparents, when a dish is done, there is no running

back and making more. So additional ovens and prep space means more menu options and a

greater number of portions ready for sale. And knowing his family’s story means that he’s

sensitive to the ups and downs of what it takes to stay afloat as a food entrepreneur, and is

enthusiastic about building relationships with Wilmington Kitchen Collective members as a

mentor and friend.


When Mark says that his grandparents are smiling down on him, he knows that to be true. The

picture of them in front of the original Saunders Tea Room is now the image on the side of his

food truck. And every day he’s out feeding a client, he’s reaching for those popcorn tins in the

process.


Feeding people is love in action.


For more information on the Kitchen Collective’s mission, partner organizations, and other resources, visit them online at www.wilmingtonkitchencollective.com


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