THE PERFECT BREW: WHAT COULD BE MORE ROMANTIC?
Frances Loo and her family of KC Loo Fruit Centre are veritable Village royalty. Hard working and with a strong sense of community and purpose Frances offers her customers at Chapter Book and Tea Shop, 442 Mount Eden Rd a rare treat that combines the very best tea from NZ and the world coupled with the largest collection of romance books that I’ve ever come across. Indulgent yes, essential – absolutely.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New Zealand, in Auckland. Originally, we were living in Mangere and then we moved to Mt Eden when I was just 10. Before opening Chapter, I was a research analyst working in the finance industry. I was in the city (Auckland) for about 13 years and then relocated to New York for 4 years and then Sydney for 3 years. My parents were getting older and I decided to come home to my roots.
This shop has been here for quite a while?
The business has been here since 1995, trading all that time as a tea shop. I’m the fourth owner and we recently celebrated fifteen years. We did something different to previous owners as we introduced books. When I say we, I mean I. Mainly because I was a romance book reader and I had lived in America and Australia. In Australia there was this speciality romance bookstore where I used to catch the train. I thought that was heaven. When I came home there was no such thing here, so I tried to find a little bookstore. I realised that I’d come back from overseas to be closer to family and if I was going to set myself up in business and retail it would mean long hours. I wouldn’t see my family, so I decided it must be Mount Eden.
Do people come in and read?
It’s a bookshop rather than a library. We built up the romance book side of the business from scratch and after a few years it started to grow. Then E-books came along and unfortunately romance books was one of the genres that was hit hardest because there’s still a stigma associated with reading a book which has got a sexy cover. However, people collect their favourite authors in print and new authors and short stories as E-books. I first came into the business expecting it to be a book shop and tea shop, and it was that for the first few years but in the last few years, if anything, we have really grown our tea side of things. Our approach has been to offer the opposite of the supermarket experience. We have over 300 teas. We are a tea boutique, able to offer many individual choices.
What about the books? Who is your favourite author and how do you pick which romance books are stocked… is it all personal choice?
It is a little bit. But I know that people’s preferences are different, so I do actually look at bookselling and review sites. My favourite authors go back a long way to when I was young – Jayne Anne Krentz and Linda Howard. One of the more recent authors that I have been reading is Nalini Singh. She was born in Fiji but came to New Zealand when she was about 10. She is one of New Zealand’s bestselling authors. She’s on the New York Times best sellers list.
I used to have a job that was quite stressful, really long hours. I think in a way, romance was escapism. I like the fact that you get issues being resolved. I guess it’s kinda like a sexy morality story. The stories work through issues and then you get your happy ever after. That’s not necessarily how real life is but I like a happy ending and if I want to get a bad ending I’ll just read the paper every day. Which I do.
Do you get time off for this or are you working everyday?
I do spend a lot of time here. But I also do a lot of volunteer work at the local rotary club, organising some of their events. We are quite a small shop, but we have over 300 teas and two and half thousand books, so keeping control of stock, reorders and new releases takes time, but I enjoy it. I love the Vodafone Warriors and record all of their games. I listen to quite a lot of live sports and talkback and I love eating.
Do you live locally?
Since dad passed away in 2016, I live above the fruit shop. It was quite a culture shock coming from a 4-bedroom house to having a room. My mum is my landlord. We could coordinate things quite well. It means I can keep an eye out for mum. Initially she lived alone but we wanted her within walking distance so now she’s in Stokes Road. It’s interesting because you were asking about who’s the most memorable local, I was like oh that’s my mum.
Frances is an excellent conversationalist and offers me a tea during the interview. I asked for a Green Tea but being good to her word about her boutique service she asked whether I preferred floral or fruity undertones. She got it spot on and I have never had such a gorgeous cuppa perfectly suited to my mood and temperament. I’ll be back for a pack and a sexy cover!