Courtney Rozsas '09 opened the doors to Lotus Farm to Table in December 2009, hoping to provide diners with more than just a meal.
"I wanted people to come into my restaurant and think of it as a lifestyle, a destination," she explained, sitting by the window of her BYOB eatery in the heart of Media, PA.
While studying biology at Drexel, Courtney's initial plans were to continue onto medical school and become a doctor. However, a life-changing trip to Asia in the summer of 2009 set her on a very different path.
Courtney had just earned her degree and completed an internship with a plastic surgeon when she took an interest in Chinese medicine. She decided to travel to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing for several weeks to learn more about the lifestyle and culture of the people in those regions.
While there, Courtney explored the importance of tea, which is often paired with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"All Chinese tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinensis, but the method used in the processing of the leaves is what makes the different varieties," she said.
For example, white tea is produced from immature tea leaves and although green and oolong teas come from the same plant, the green leaves are not fermented.
Courtney explained that even at a very young age, her mother, who traveled to Asia often for work, introduced her to teas. When she was a child and had trouble sleeping, her mother would give her chamomile.
During her trip to Asia, Courtney was inspired by the natives' natural, healthy way of life and pleasant demeanor, and she returned home with a new passion – to open a restaurant that would allow her to explore the connection between eating right, drinking tea and well-being.
"I said that I would love to open a restaurant with a seasonally changing menu and my parents were actually really supportive and told me I should go for it. They said that even if it failed, at least I could say I tried."
And so began the journey toward making her dream restaurant a reality.
"Dealing with all the permits and attorneys was a challenge," Courtney recalled. "We rented the space and totally gutted the place. I rebuilt the kitchen myself; I knew nothing about building a kitchen!"
Courtney had the support of her parents and the help of some fellow restaurant owners in the area. "It was a vision that I had and I was so passionate about it, I didn't let any obstacle stop me," she said.
After months of searching for a chef, Courtney eventually hired David Berg who shares her vision for bringing diners the freshest ingredients from local farms.
According to Courtney, customer favorites at Lotus Farm to Table include the Turkish hummus and pita, and the watermelon salad. Because 90% of their menu is based on organic, locally-grown foods, it changes every six to seven weeks.
"Besides supporting our local farmers, eating locally is definitely great because organic foods don't use pesticides, they're better for you, and you can actually taste the freshness."
At Lotus Farm to Table, Courtney compliments the simple, locally grown dishes with more than a dozen varieties of hand-rolled teas, each with their own medicinal value. The teas are hand-selected by Courtney and come from tea houses in China. They are served in clear, glass pots so that customers can actually watch the leaves and flowers brew when submerged in hot water.
The teas are not sweetened with sugar, rather Courtney uses peach blossom, sugar plums and dried lemon slices to add flavor.
According to Courtney, some of the most popular teas include:
Happy Tea – "a clear green tea which brings on a good mood...the first sip will relax you; full of satisfaction and harmony, tranquility and serenity"
Green – "increases metabolism, helps fight allergic reactions, boosts the immune system, reduces hypertension, suppresses and reverses aging, and helps the body release more energy"
Chrysanthemum – "a caffeine free tea which is good for internal cooling of the body...treats heat-related illnesses such as fever, flu and sore throat, along with seasonal allergies"
Courtney will soon visit Tokyo where she will continue her research of teas and participate in an authentic tea ceremony. In the spring her travels will take her to India to learn more about the teas in that region of the world.
"I'm looking forward to learning more and bringing that information back to the restaurant," she said.
As for the future of Lotus Farm to Table, Courtney says that she is completely content where she is right now – but would love to see the restaurant continue to thrive. While success is definitely important, what Courtney finds most rewarding is the daily interaction with the customers.
"People say they escape from the world when they're here and that they feel as though they're rejuvenated and healthy when they leave," she said.
Even though Courtney never became a doctor, Lotus Farm to Table – with its fresh, local ingredients and hand-rolled teas – has allowed her to bring good health and nutrition to her customers every day in her own special way.