Founder of famous tea rooms

Founder of famous tea rooms

Born: 1960; Died: February 21, 2014.

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GAYNOR Salisbury, who has died of cancer aged 53, was the cheery founder of the popular and award-winning Loopy Lorna's tea houses in Edinburgh, which became institutions in the Morningside district and were often described as something out of Alice in Wonderland.

The colourful doylies, tablecloths, teapots, hand-knitted tea cosies, fine china and home-baked fairytale cakes were her way of putting a tough childhood, starting in a housing estate in Liverpool, behind her.

She named the tea houses, the first at 370 Morningside Road (now the Caffé e Cucina) and later in the nearby historic Church Hill theatre, after her mother Lorna, who died of lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 66 in Strathcarron Hospice, Cumbernauld (Gaynor Salisbury always kept a photo of her mother on the walls of Loopy Lorna's).

In 2009, her head chef Michelle Phillips won the award for Casual Dining Chef of the Year in the Scottish Chef Awards for her work in Loopy Lorna's. The following year, Ms Salisbury herself was named Entrepreneur of the Year and in 2012 her new tea house, in the theatre, was named Best Independent Eatery of the Year.

As cancer crept up on her, however, she was forced to sell both tea houses, her bustling spot within the Church Hill Theatre only last November. Since the theatre became a popular venue for amateur drama, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Loopy Lorna's became a magnet for artists, Festival tourists and anything from afternoon tea housewives with prams to assorted Fringe oddballs.

It gained almost a cult following and became a place to see and be seen. American tourists particularly loved it because it was "so cute, so English (sic)" But despite its popularity, its need for a large, well-trained and friendly staff meant that, coupled with its boss's illness, its profits did not equate well enough to its turnover.

With both health and financial worries, Ms Salisbury said she took the advice of her oncologist and closed down the tea house in the Church Hill Theatre last November, a year after she had been diagnosed with secondary cancer. She had closed down the first Loopy Lorna's tea house, on Morningside Road, in 2011, largely because it found itself in competition with her new and larger venture , which also provided better access for prams and wheelchairs. That was a business mistake she put down to herself.

She was born in Liverpool in 1960, just before the Beatles changed the face of the city. It was a tough place to grow up and her upbringing was no exception. Her mother Lorna had been abused as a child and suffered from clinical depression throughout her life. Her father walked out on his wife and family when Gaynor was six months old and they were forced to live with her grandparents on a council estate in Walton, Liverpool - on benefits since the missing father provided no maintenance.

"I have strong childhood memories of being in dirty social security offices with people smoking and drinking," Ms Salisbury once said in an interview.

Nevertheless, she became the first member of her family to go to university - Stirling, where she started in psychology but moved on to entrepreneurial studies before doing a lot of travelling, working for a while as a sales lady in Harrods, for two years in the kitchens of Holloway prison in London and running a B&B in Margate, Kent.

"I thought I could change the world," she once said but retained a lifelong ambition to run a restaurant or tea house. After settling in Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire, where her ailing mother joined her, she hatched her plans. Her mother had passed away by the time she opened her first Loopy Lorna's - a restaurant rather than a tea house - at 24 Deanhaugh Street in Edinburgh's Stockbridge district in 2001.

It was in 2008 that she fulfilled her dream - a wonderland tea house - opening on that corner of Morningside Road in October 2008. The place caught on immediately, so much so that she was overwhelmed and had to close for two days to recruit and train more staff.

Wishing to expand, she won a lease from Edinburgh City Council to open another Loopy Lorna's in the Church Hill Theatre, further up Morningside Road, in 2011.

She dreamed of opening branches in Glasgow, New York and elsewhere but soon realised that, with two tea houses on the same road, she was competing with herself. She had to close the first tea house that year and then the theatre venue.

She was diagnosed first with breast cancer and later with secondary liver cancer. In an interview after the latter diagnosis, she said: "If you are going to die from something, die from cancer. It gives you time to talk to people."

The quote brought some criticism from cancer victims and their relatives but it was clearly made in good faith.

Ms Salisbury was divorced. She is survived by her children Hanneke and Rowan and her sister Denise.