By Sharon Coy
Blade Staff Writer
Marla's Joy Tea House, 512 State, Concordia, will celebrate its first anniversary Aug. 22.
When tea house owner Marla Jorgensen, retired three years ago and was living in Bartlesville, Okla., she came back to her hometown to visit and take care of some business. During that visit, the former Concordia resident and 1970 CHS graduate, said she knew then that she wanted to live here again.
Jorgensen, a nuclear engineer, has two degrees from Kansas State University, in engineering and accounting. She worked for Conoco Phillips for 27 years as an accountant, doing a number of systems and has been all over the world.
"When Lois Lervold closed the Huckleberry Tea House, I, along with many others said, 'Somebody should buy that place,' " Jorgensen said.
Her first thought was ". . . but it shouldn't be me."
Then her deep faith took over, and she said she felt led by the Lord to buy the building and use it not only as a tea house but also as a ministry.
Several events taking place at Marla's Joy in the short time since she took ownership show that she is fulfilling that mission.
While Marla's Joy has opened as a successful tea house and fine dining restaurant, it also serves as a meeting place for Christian Women's Outreach, Hands Across Our Community and a monthly community prayer breakfast.
Jorgensen's mother, the late Wanda Istas, had worked in food service for many years and she herself had worked as a waitress when she was younger so she was no stranger to the ins and outs of preparing and serving food to the public. Also, her experience with Conoco Phillips gave her adequate knowledge for running a business.
Jorgensen knew when she bought the tea house that she wanted not just a cook, but a chef. Her prayers were answered when a friend introduced her to Gary Bottarini (Chef G), a certified chef and former resident of the San Francisco Bay area.
Bottarini is married to a Concordia native, Lisa Grandpre. They, along with Lisa's family, had recently moved to Concordia.
Bottarini said he graduated from C.I.M. (Cooking Institute of Mom) before becoming a certified chef. He had worked 22 years in manufacturing management when an injured bicep forced him to be out of work for two years.
His family encouraged him to do what he was most passionate about, which was cooking, something he had done from the time he was a boy.
Growing up in San Francisco, Bottarini said he was not only exposed to his Italian mother's cooking but to the cuisine of many different nationalities. Going in and out of his friends' mothers' kitchens just in his neighborhood he learned about the preparation of African American, Mexican, Filipino and Japanese food as well as many baking techniques. "When I was 12 years old, I was making sushi," he said.
Even when he was working at his management job, he would spend evenings cooking as a way of relaxing.
To become certified, he had a year's course work from the USPCA (United States Personal Chef Association) in the Bay area and also passed a ServSafe® Restaurant exam.
After he became certified, he worked as a corporate chef for a couple of companies in California. Before connecting with Jorgensen, he cooked at a restaurant in Belleville.
Bottarini said he enjoys cooking everything, makes his own pasta and sauces, and doesn't say no to any suggestions. This was proven when he and Jorgensen catered an Indonesian wedding reception in May, a fête both said they are extremely proud of.
Jorgensen had lived in Indonesia for several years so was familiar with their food. Bottarini learned what he needed to know through the Internet. A large photo of the reception buffet can be seen at the tea house.
Jorgensen praises Bottarini for his willngness to try anything and enjoys taste testing his many experiments.
Entrees for both their lunch and evening menus are decided on by trial and fine tuning. Bottarini adds his own special tweaking to each recipe he tries.
They use healthy, fresh ingredients, many of which are purchased at Rod's Food Store, located just across the alley from Marla's. No canned vegetables are used. Bottarini roasts the vegetables before adding them to soups.
Marla's lunch menu offers a variety of sandwiches including Brisbane Turkey Cranberry, the result of a combination Bottarini first tried on a business trip to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. It features smoked turkey, spring mix, spread with a blend of crumbled bleu cheese, toasted pecans and cranberry sauce.
Those yearning for a taste of New Orleans might want to try Chef G's Creole Shrimp Hoagie made with his special Creole dressing.
Viva Italia is the theme for Thursday lunches when manicotti and California pizzas are served.
Just recently Jorgensen has extended the tea house's hours to include a dinner menu from 5-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. She said Friday has become a popular "date night" with some couples coming in every week.
Entrees for these meals vary but favorites are a smoked pork chop with mushroom wine sauce, chicken or prawn pasta or pan-seared salmon with lemon dill sauce.
Desserts are all house made by Bottarini with turtle cheesecake and key lime pie among his specialties.
Appetizers also are house made with deep fried dill pickles, crab cakes and prawn cocktails as possible choices.
When Jorgensen took ownership of the tea house she chose to change the decor and have the entrance room resemble a French sidewalk café.
Assisting her was Concordia High School senior Cody Schmitz who painted the walls and a realistic mural of a bakery. The vinyl flooring has a stained concrete pattern and a large cobalt blue glazed pottery fountain is a focal point.
While Jorgensen's middle name is Joy, she said the joy in the name of her business stems from her faith, and the joy she experiences serving the Lord and serving people.
Marla's Joy serves 25 varieties of tea, hot or cold, as well as coffee. Jorgensen said she would have no problem serving a high tea if it is requested, but she stressed that in addition to being a tea house, her place also is a place for fine dining.
She and Bottarini also welcome the chance to cater holiday parties, bridal showers and other celebrations. Both are already looking forward to Fall Fest crowds with Bottarini planning to serve an early breakfast of his house made biscuits and gravy outside.
When asked what she enjoys about her work, Jorgensen said she likes to work with people and see them enjoy their food. "I want them to have a fine dining experience and be completely satisfied," she said. "We pride ourselves on personal service."
Bottarini said he likes being able to be creative, seeing smiles and receiving good comments. "I like being able to please people," he said.