Turning a dream into a reality requires hard work, blood, sweat, tears – and money.

Laurie Neill was armed with all those critical qualities as she diligently worked to transform the former El Castel Steak House into the quaint tea room she had long envisioned. But the renovations were much more onerous, extensive and expensive than first thought.

“The renovations went over budget and exceeded our original estimates,” says Neill, sitting comfortably at a table set with China in what is now the beautifully appointed White Lions Tea House on Westmount Drive. “So, first, I went to the banks and then to the credit unions … they wouldn’t help. When you’re a start-up business and especially if you are a restaurant, you’re considered a high risk.”

And that’s when the Orillia Area Community Development Corporation (OACDC) steps into the breach, offering much-needed financial assistance to small businesses.

“We can be more flexible than traditional lending institutions in the types of security we accept and the values assigned to that security,” said Wendy Timpano, the OACDC’s general manager, who noted the organization provides loans of up to $250,000 for both existing businesses and start-up businesses.

“I don’t know what I would have done without their financial assistance,” Neill says.

Fortified by the financing, Neill was able to complete the renovations and create the environment – comfortable, quaint, bright and welcoming – that she knew a proper tea room required.

While many people have become ‘regulars’, dropping in for tea and scones or lunch, Neill is not resting on her laurels. She has developed a popular catering service whose reputation is growing. She and her much-loved, hard-working staff are also developing a menu of special events to help introduce more people to the tea room.

“We can host bridal and baby showers, birthdays, business meetings, fundraising events … the opportunities are limitless,” she says.

Laurie Neill, owner of White Lions Tea House, has worked hard to create a quaint tea room that has become increasingly popular. Over a cup of tea, she often peruses cookbooks looking for recipes her clientele might like to try at the Westmount Drive eatery.