Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Shining gem

The Little Tea House, a new cafe in Whetstone, thrived against the odds

Hero for Shining gem
Gluten free gem cakes are available to order as Birthday cakes. Pictured: Ras gulla surrounded by rose syrup mousse with pistachio and cardamom sponge base.
By Bella Saltiel 29 October 2021

Lina Naim wasn’t angry when her business partners left her with a new cafe to open just two months into a pandemic, “I actually felt abandoned by them,” she says. We’re sitting at a small table opposite a wall of faux flowers, drinking a creamy homemade chai, made by Lina moments before. Stepping into the Little Tea House, it feels as though I am getting an insight into Lina’s imagination: turquoise walls, dainty tables and a display case of elaborate metallic desserts she calls ‘gems’.

“At first, I wasn’t sure if I could do this all on my own,” she continues.

One year in, she has proven to herself, and to anyone else, that it’s possible to create a successful business alone, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Lina manages the cafe alongside her full-time role in the tech industry. It’s hard work. But, it’s what she loves.

“I always wanted to do this but I was never going to just quit my job for it,” making remote working perfect for beginning the cafe without risking her main source of income. When she saw there was a small space available on Whetstone High Road she knew it was “now or never”.

All of the cakes – including the vegan and gluten free gems – and pastries, are made in-house by Lina. With no formal training she’s been trusting her instinct, learning on the job, picking herself up when she makes a mistake. Thankfully, she has an eye for design and natural talent for innovative flavour combinations. Gems come in pairings like lemon/guava and lychee/strawberry whilst savoury eggless cruffins (the lovechild of a croissant and a muffin) are flavoured with feta, sweet pepper, and Zaatar, and cumin, olive, and cheese, there’s also savoury paratha and kulfi ice-cream.

Lina’s loved cooking “since I was a kid, when I was watching cooking shows like Masterchef”. She’d spend the evenings making crepes with TV chefs barking instructions that she followed meticulously. It was around this time that she also developed her chai recipe. At home “I am the chai wallah for the family. All the aunties say my chai is the best.” Everyone, joked that one day she would sell her tea. It may have seemed like a pipe-dream but Lina always knew she really would create her own cafe.

Although opening up a new business during lockdown has had its challenges, it’s also been a success. Something she puts down to her experience working in tech. Lina knows how to take risks for big rewards, “I wasn’t afraid of losing it all. I knew that might happen.”

To anyone who has a dream and is waiting to start their own business she says, “you have to work up to perfection. Don’t invest in a product until you know what works. Also, know that your partners are competent.”

Lina “couldn’t be happier” now the cafe is getting more and more popular. It’s a testament to her determination. Or, maybe, it’s her uncompromising individualism, “sometimes, it just works better alone.”

With the gems sitting to attention in the display cabinet, like rain droplets, fallen from a fantasy realm, it feels like Lina has cast a magic spell to bring her unique dream to life.

1152 High Rd, London N20 0RA