Feeding Creativity

This cafe catches you by surprise. Enter, and it is warm, cozy, even calming, yet so provocative it suggests there must be a very interesting person behind it. There's a gem-like quality to the tiny tea and coffee salon on the ground floor of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Its many facets are expressed in the exotic silk lanterns from San Francisco's Chinatown, the thoughtfully-chosen quotes hand-lettered on the walls, the menu board of selected teas from Central Asia and the Far East, and the diversity of its patrons. There are tables for two, for four, and tables end to end for six and more, and nearly all of them are filled. It's 10:30 on a weekday morning. There are young moms with sleeping babies, older folks talking about "supplementary income," and, amazingly, there's now a line of men in tuxedos and women in lovely black dresses.

"The symphony is on break," says Lynn Schwartz, proprietor of Cafe Beaux Arts, describing the musicians from Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. "I happen to know they played for 1,300 school children this morning." That explains the cluster of kids playing outside the cafe's only window, under which Schwartz sits to do her research (with the help of The Joy of Cooking and more) for the homemade pastries and light fare to accompany the fine teas and specialty coffees. Says Schwartz, "I've written articles [including a monthly food column] on cooking with tea, so I've researched a lot. I like to use tea in some of the desserts [offered at the cafe], salad dressings and muffins. Tea, as an ingredient, is good for you---it's all those antioxidants and flavors."

Watching the line grow outside the door, Schwartz joins her small staff to lend a hand. In the press of the moment, she moves a little too quickly and watches a plate of freshly-baked apple strudel fly off the counter, eliciting a collective groan of disappointment from her customers. Unperturbed, Schwartz pulls some sleight of hand, and the line begins moving smoothly again.

Schwartz is not new to the restaurant business. "I have a very eclectic background. I was trained as an actress, [graduated from] and worked at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, a professional acting school in Manhattan." After achieving undergraduate and graduate degrees in creative writing, Schwartz found herself, "like [many] artists in New York City," she says, "supporting myself in the restaurant business." In time, Schwartz climbed the ladder to become the chief operating officer of a diverse group of independent restaurants in New York City, California and Ireland. She was also a partner and founder of Temple Bar, one of Manhattan's downtown lounges and, according to Zagats, "a supersexy, rivetingly sophisticated Noho hideaway....straight out of a 40s film noir."

It was at Temple Bar that Schwartz started a literary reading series where, she says, "people were able to have a martini and listen to a best-selling or Pulitzer-Prize-winning author. We were able to get wonderful talent for that series."

Schwartz says she misses that the most. She has plans in the works for a book club at her new cafe, where selected members of the community will act as facilitators to lead an interactive discussion in the comfort of the cozy cafe.

Acting in partnership with Rob Levit, a friend, musician and artist-in-residence at Maryland Hall, Cafe Beaux Arts has recently completed a very successful month-long informal lecture series featuring local innovative women, "who talked about how they ended up in their chosen professions, aspects of their creativity, how they keep their creativity fresh and viable for business," says Schwartz. A new lineup of creative women is planned for the near future. And, she adds, "being a writer myself, we'll do more writers' meetings here."

Schwartz not only writes about food but has also written short stories, produced plays, and staged play and short-story readings.

Like the creative women in her series, Schwartz is always evolving. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she is the daughter of an anthropologist. "He was a full professor of anthropology, chairman of the department at Syracuse University and, in his 40s, gave up academia to become a salmon fisherman in Washington state." Schwartz recognizes her father's transition "from the cerebral to the physical" and says, "I've kind of done that---from COO to standing behind the counter in these" (as she points to her utilitarian clogs). Two years ago, Schwartz moved to Annapolis---"for love, and because I love the water," she says. She's engaged to Annapolitan Jeff Lapides, with whom she has worked to get the cafe up and running. She says of her fiance, "Jeff adores Annapolis and wouldn't leave it for anything."

When the Maryland Hall opportunity came up, Schwartz recalls people asking, "Why are you doing this?" She says, "I think it's such a wonderful opportunity for the community---creating a salon-like setting. I don't have alot of space here, like I did in New York, but it makes me happy to try to make it upscale. The challenge is to make it look good, despite our limitations."

Although she's designed restaurants before, Schwartz collaborated on this one with Kata Petty. "We have similar sensibilities. She worked with me to get the place looking like it does." Schwartz chose all the wall quotes herself but collaborated with graphic designer Lara Bontempo, who chose the fonts and designed the tea menu. Schwartz's favorite quote is Emily Dickinson's, "I dwell in possibility."

Of the possibilities Schwartz dwells in, one she has recently brought to fruition is the creation of a local play group for the national organization Families with Children from China. Schwartz is the mother of 5-year-old daughter Isobel Sei Yan ("Ibbi") from Shanghai---"I think they matched two urban women together," she says. Ibbi is described by her mom as "raring to go," words that would also describe Schwartz as well. The play group, which started with Schwartz and one other mom, meets every six weeks and has grown to include 40 families.

On any given day at the cafe, you're likely to see young Kindermusik students, beginning ballerinas, teenagers, adults, and symphony, ballet and concert-goers. Schwartz has truly provided a "gathering place for creative spirits of all ages." And, of herself, Schwartz says, "Now I can [finally] marry my artistic background with my restaurant experience. I guess one of the nicest compliments I get when people walk in is, 'My goodness, this is like a little jewel here,'---they're so surprised."

Cafe Beaux Arts has extensive weekday hours. It is closed on Sunday but opens for all major performances at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase Street. The phone number is 410-263-8100.

When not wearing one of her hats for Inside Annapolis Magazine, Carolyn Lee can be found padding her kayak or working in her garden.


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