BY KATHRYN ADISMAN | Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett, the co-owner of the trio of English eateries and shops on Greenwich Avenue — Tea & Sympathy, Carry On Tea & Sympathy, and A Salt & Battery — died under hospice care at home on Bank Street on Thurs., April 27. He was 56.
He was diagnosed with Stage 4 adenoma esophageal carcinoma in June 2021 during COVID and beat it and was back at work, when, in late February, it was discovered that the cancer had moved to his brain.
He is survived by his wife, Nicky Perry, 63, their daughter, Audrey Kavanagh-Dowsett, 19, and, in England, his mother, Patricia, 85, and twin sisters, Tara and Scarlett.
The huge outpouring of emotion in the community is a testament to the universal love Sean inspired.
“I’ve never seen so many men cry!” Perry said.
“Kind” was the first word that came to mind when Nicky described her spouse of 27 years. “He would do anything for you,” she said, recalling how he’d go to the supermarket and end up carrying a stranger’s groceries.
She called Sean “the best husband. We were madly in love 27 years!” she said. Every day he would tell her, “I love you more than you could know!”
They met in 1994 when he was a customer at her restaurant Tea & Sympathy. At the time he had a career in modeling and film. The fashion designer John Bartlett said Sean was his first model. Sean was quite the “dandy” wearing his own outfits. He appeared in a Madonna/Britney Spears video.
He was born on Oct. 14, 1966, in Northampton outside of London to father Harry Dowsett, the head of London restaurants, and Irish mother Patricia Kavanagh. Sean attended Bedford, a boarding school. His father died when Sean was 11. He came to the States on a 10-day modeling trip and never left.
On their first date, Nicky recalled he said to her, “The two of us — we could conquer the world together!”
Nicky opened Tea & Sympathy in December 1990. Together, they opened Carry on Tea & Sympathy in 1996 and A Salt & Battery in 2000.
Perry said Sean was “so smart” — a mechanical wiz who could take apart a toaster and put it back together again.
“He could have done anything,” she said. “He would be able to land a plane!”
She mentioned his “wit” and “sense of humor” and “charm!” He wouldn’t suffer fools. “He lived life on his own terms,” she said.
Their daughter, Audrey, seems to be following in her father’s footsteps. She has been living in the U.K. since high school when she started attending Haileybury, an English boarding school.She learned friendship and responsibility and played lacrosse, just as her father had played rugby.
“He wanted me to have a similar experience,” Audrey said.
Currently she is attending the journalism program at the City University of London — though had to drop out to be with her family. She recalled the first time, coming home, when Sean didn’t pick her up at J.F.K. Airport. He always would in the past, bringing a Caesar salad.
“I was only 16,” she said. “I just knew!”
Audrey is writing her father’s eulogy.
“He taught me a lot about friendship,” she said. “He’s always been a solid friend.” She said the support “from the people he touched over the years” has been overwhelming and is a theme.
“He did good for good people,” his daughter said. “He liked to make people happy. He went out of his way to do favors. He always said he had the Bat-Phone! He was a problem-solution kind of guy, he did not wallow.”
After his surgery three years ago to remove his entire esophagus, he sprung right back. Two weeks after the chemo, he was on the subway carrying his feeding tube in a backpack.
“He was a f—ing warrior!” Audrey said.
“When I was in high school, my father and I would argue constantly!” she recalled. She likened it to the two of them jousting.
“He is a giant child,” she said. “He would build crazy Halloween costumes — with robotics! He used to be a production art director.”
After they saw the movie “Maleficent” together, he decided to make his own version of horns and wings, taking up the entire basement of their house.
“Playful and protective” is how Audrey characterized her dad. She said she was lucky to have a boyfriend who wasn’t scared off when she first introduced him and “the back-pocket knife came out!”
“He wore a Leatherman [multi-tool] on his belts and was an avid handyman who kept all three businesses humming,” recalled Peter Gonzalez, the owner of Johnny’s Bar just down the block from Tea & Sympathy. “He was a very good neighbor. He looked out for the block on Greenwich Avenue. He was always there to lend a hand. Whenever the Council people that take care of our area were interested in getting feedback from small businesses, they would talk to him and Nicky.”
“I grew up in those restaurants,” Audrey said proudly.
She thinks she takes after her father, whom she calls “my biggest critic and friend, challenging me in a playful and constructive way.” Sean would tell her, “You’re not having fun if you’re not getting into trouble. Get into creative trouble!”
“He has made me who I am, instilled in me his values,” she said. “He had the utmost integrity.”
His wife Nicky Perry called the timing of Sean’s passing “odd,” with the coronation of King Charles on Saturday, May 6. But Nicky knows people will be coming to her shops from overseas to celebrate the royals, and she is determined to be there.
A memorial service will be held at Greenwich Village Funeral Home, 199 Bleecker St., on Tues., May 9, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sharpies will be provided for everyone who wants to pen a message to Sean on his casket.
A wonderful man, may he rest lightly.
A few years ago, I was making my way home from a paint store. I was loaded down with paint cans, rollers, paint trays, etc. I was hoping to find a cab, but couldn’t. Then an English taxi pulled up. It was Sean! He grabbed the paint and everything else, said “Where to?” and drove me from Chelsea to my home in the Village! He was just so happy to help! He was the best neighbor ever! This is a huge loss for all of us.
So So sorry for your loss. I’m a friend of Louise. After reading that I’m blown away. Such a kind cool guy. Stay strong 🙏🏽
There is a small memory I have tucked away. Now is a good time to share it.
Over the years the family moved several times around the neighborhood. I met them when they became my next-door neighbors in the building at the corner of 12th Street, close to their “little piece of Britain”.
When Audrey was very little, about 3 or 4, I was unexpectedly treated to the sight of Sean carrying her home along the street on his shoulders. This played out on one of those rare gorgeous spring New York days when the air is sparkling and everything seemed to be optimal like a movie in the making.
Bigger than life, truly never shy, he took the opportunity to make a scene with her. Wearing a mischievous grin, instead of securely seated, he had somehow unseated her and she was draped upside down his back as he took quick long strides maneuvering down the block. He was acting reckless to tease her and his blue eyes twinkled. Little Audrey’s dark long curls were bouncing. She had nothing to hold on to as she jostled along. Nothing to fear though, she was a smart little girl. She was laughing and squealing because she could feel that her father had a firm grip on her.
Just like Nicky.
They are a great family. I will miss him.
Much love to Audrey and Nicky
So sad for Nicky and Audrey and everyone who had the honor to know Sean all these years. I always enjoyed talking with Sean when in Tea & Sympathy; he was a riot, so ebullient and intelligent — and such a hard worker, that was so clear. Tea and Sympathy is a true touchstone in the Village, has been for over two decades. Hearing this today is a deep shock. What a huge loss to his family, friends, employees and the Village. My deepest condolences.
I go whenever I’m in NY. God bless you and your loving family.
Thank you to readers for sharing your vivid memories. I imagine the mischievous spirit of Sean chuckling over the fact that in NYC we had tumultuous flooding — perfect weather for writing an obit! I wonder if he arranged that!?!
Sean was like a Big Brother to me. A contractor did some totally incompetent work in my apartment and failed to deliver the marble countertop I had paid him $600 for. I went to Tea & Sympathy, told Sean, who was behind the counter. He said to one of his men, “Take over the store for a bit,” and came to my apartment, demanded that the contractor show his license and insurance certificate and said, “If Elizabeth does not have her $600 back within 24 hours, I will see to it that you never work in the State of New York again.” Needless to say, I got the money the next day. Sean was big and loving and comforting and it was a joy and delight to see him whenever I walked by Tea & Sympathy. And he always had something awful to say about Trump! Nicky, Audrey, you are so loved and embraced by us. Liz Ryan West 12th St
What a lovely man. WinkBall had such a laugh with him and oh what a lovely family he has too. Godspeed my man and much love
P.S.: Yesterday my physical therapist told me a patient had come to her weeping over the death of Sean and talked about him and the giant hole his passing leaves in her life and the life of our community.
I walked into the shop one day and asked for Nicky. Sean said she wasn’t there and I explained how years earlier she had been one of the catalysts behind me finding the courage to have a child later in life. I told him and he said, “My wife is simply the best.”
Nicky IS the best, and in Sean she found her match and her soulmate. He was beautiful inside and out, and New York has lost a giant piece of its soul with his passing — because a city, town or village is only as good as its inhabitants. Sean had a way of making anyone feel important, making anyone laugh. You felt lucky to be around him and his lovely family.
Sean will be always remembered and always missed.
Sean was a wonderful person. And he will be missed.
I always called Nicky “Fagin” with her merry band of Brits working for her on Greenwich ….in the late ’90s that crew became my friends …Sean was a prince ..you’ll see him again in the next life, love ….just not yet ..when I see you next, Nicky, I’ll have a pile of roses for you .. love you, kid