Students, staff enjoy breaking bread at Hatters’ Cafe


Shannon Ahearn

Junior Kate Jakobson prepares an order in the back of the house.

The life behind the blue and orange kitchen doors in the Hatters’ Cafe is a mystery to most.
As customers, one of the greatest compensations for the controlled chaos of clanging spatulas, shouts of “order up,” rushing dish water, and crinkle of freshly baked muffins being wrapped is the aromas that float through these doors with the swift movement of waitstaff.
Inside the kitchen, smoky bacon and savory sausage sizzle on high and low grills, fluffy omelets are folded with fresh ingredients and guests inhale the smell of breakfast hanging in the air as they chat.
This is the arguably the warmest welcome DHS has to offer students and staff — the Hatters’ Cafe is a treat in and of itself and tries hard to not permit guests to leave without satisfaction.
This year marks 13 for Brian Turner, head of the Cafe and teacher for both Culinary Arts I and II; teachers Diane Arifian and Carrie Beauchemin teach Food and Nutrition as well as Baking and Pastry Arts.
The Cafe itself has been around for more than 38 years, and has grown from a small space for staff members to eat into a fully operational restaurant for everyone.
“There was a parachute, like the kind used in gym classes, that they used as a wall,” Turner explains. “And they had a little household stove, and four or five tables set up that they used for teachers.”
Turner takes pride in an entirely different and authentic cafe experience today.
“Since then I’ve done a lot of updates with the menu, technology updates; our equipment is the same as it would be in a restaurant,” he explains, “My goal is that, even though I know it’s not the most attractive of rooms, I try to make it seem at least more like a cafe. “
Creating the charming cafe aesthetic has not been the only challenge for Turner.
Due to increasing dietary demands, the staff (which includes students as cooks and servers, and retired teacher Kenny Allsworth as manager of the dining room) has been presented with ensuring the menu includes choices that appeal to most palates.
“We have a lot more vegetarians than we did when I first started, a lot more people are health conscious, or lactose intolerant,” Turner said. “The challenge is juggling the nutritional component that I have to meet, making sure that there’s something for everybody.”
The staff of the cafe additionally has obstacles to overcome while dressed in the blue button-up.
“I think the hardest part about working in the Hatters’ Cafe is definitely waiting on customers,” says senior Brandon Robbins, one of Turner’s star students.
“Customer satisfaction is always hard,” he continued. Robbins admits that much of the staff is presented with the difficult task of keeping customers happy by moving quickly and efficiently, just as in a real restaurant.
“A lot of times I do the prep work early. I have to do a lot of the things at once; like cook, wait, and dish-wash all at the same time, so I try to do as many things as I can,” he said.
Otherwise, the staff may quickly find the cafe, to use a restaurant term, “in the weeds,” which means orders are behind and customers are not being served.
While this all might come across as entirely overwhelming, junior Justin Torres said that he believes there truly is no element of working in the cafe that can be distinguished as the hardest.
“I think you just have to get used to the way the kitchen is run,” he explained. “You have to learn different things and learn how to get around different obstacles.”
Student workers in the Hatters’ Cafe are required to be trained both in the front and back of the house, or both waiting and cooking.
Torres admitted he prefers cooking to waiting, and that the favorite job in the back was working on both the high and low grills.
“I like the Danbury deluxes,” he said of the breakfast sandwich.
While the deluxes and the food overall is praised by students and staff well after they leave DHS, it should come as no surprise that the cafe’s famous home fries have risen to the top of the favorite list.
Home fries are perhaps the Cafe’s greatest phenomenon; students ask for the side to accompany nearly every breakfast dish and then place to-go orders to save some for later.
The cafe’s home fries have risen to such a popular status that DHS students have, in a sense, started to run an underground black market home fry business.
“What I heard was five bucks … they’re paying three bucks for them here, then selling them for five outside,” Turner said.
Turner raised the price from $2 to $3 once news reached him about the profit outside, raising the question of whether or not sales inside would be affected.
The Hatters’ Cafe is able to keep prices substantially low due to the fact that there is no labor cost for student chefs and waiters; they’re “payed in their grade,” Turner stated. Teachers regularly tip, and encourage their students to do so as well.
“There are some things we make more of a profit off of,” Turner continued, “ and home fries are one of the biggest.”
As far as the home fry black market is concerned, it should come as no surprise that sales have not gone down since Turner raised the price.
“In fact,” he added, “I think they’ve gone up.”
The home fries, talented students and happy customers only begin to scratch the surface of the value the Hatters’ Cafe in the hearts and halls of DHS.
Allsworth can be seen in the lobby of the Hatters’ Cafe any period of the day, charming customers with warm banter and his quick wit.
Allsworth has retired from teaching, but chooses to stay around the cafe.
Upon being asked why, Allsworth replied, “I was here 43 years. This is the best of what teaching is all about.”
He retired last year and admitted to staying until May, with the possibility of returning next year as well.
“Working with Mr. Turner is a blast, he has such a rapport with the kids,” Allsworth continued, “[The Hatters Cafe] is everything that all the teachers that have connected with students enjoy about teaching.”
For many students, the school day is long and treacherous. The Hatters’ Cafe offers a respite from the humdrum.
Junior Mat Anderson says that his favorite meal is the Danbury Deluxe, a classic breakfast sandwich with choice of egg, cheese, bacon or sausage.
When asked how the Hatters’ Cafe compares to that of the cafeteria, he says it’s “smaller, quieter, cleaner, and better.”
Additionally, the waiters at the Hatters’ Cafe help keep the restaurant flow as they take orders and deliver the food as fast as possible.
Senior Kaitlynn Jackson says of the waitstaff that, “They’re very nice and attentive here.”
Most students did not have any complaints, proving that it continues to go above and beyond the expectations of the students.
“I don’t really have any critiques,” junior Jon Berr says. “I love it overall.”