Blink and you might miss it.
Situated by the water in the small town of Broad Brook is At The Dam. The building has been there since the 1800s; once as Pigeon’s Pharmacy, then as a mix of different restaurants. It’s passed from owner to owner.
Susan Chadbourne and her son, Paul Merker, were happy to keep its legacy rolling.
“I always wanted to open up a breakfast restaurant,” said Chadbourne. “Paul is an amazing chef, so he just worked out. When he saw that Facebook post, we looked into it and went for it. I retired from my corporate job and work here now.”
Chadbourne spent 36 years as a vice president in the corporate department of a bank. She was ready for a change of pace. As for Merker, he had spent all his life as a chef. He worked his way up to sous chef at a country club before he and his mother took on their next venture.
“We signed the lease for the building in December 2019,” said Merker. “We had to get a brand new grill and a refrigeration unit. We painted the entire building. It needed rehab.”
Along with a new logo and name, they settled on an open, refreshing look. There’s a bar customers can sit at and chat and tables for bigger parties. “People can see the kitchen and grill as I’m cooking,” noted Merker.
Things were going smoothly as they prepared for a March 2020 opening. Then came the pandemic.
“We were getting ready to open up in March of 2020, within the week COVID hit,” said Merker.
Instead, they were met with the news that every restaurant had to shut its doors. Rather than open their doors for takeout only, however, they waited.
“I’m glad we didn’t do takeout only first,” said Merker. “There was nobody coming out then. It was very tough for restaurants.”
They waited until June of 2020, when the state allowed half-capacity dining. There were still challenges. They were forced to keep their bar closed since it wasn’t six feet from where coffee was made. There were days where, due to spacing requirements, they would be at max capacity with just eight people in the restaurant.
It looked grim, but they pressed on. Word of mouth traveled fast.
“We saw an uptick six months after we opened,” said Merker. “We soon got Best Neighborhood restaurant from the Hartford Courant. We had people coming from as far as Farmington.”
Soon after, restrictions were lifted. They opened their bar and packed their cozy restaurant. They quickly garnered regulars and newcomers alike. The secret? Probably the homemade corned beef hash.
There’s no frills with At The Dam. It’s a classic, American breakfast and lunch done exactly how you want it.
“We do a hash breakfast with two eggs, home fries and toast with the corned beef hash,” said Merker. “We do corned beef hash omelets and wraps, too. That’s very popular. It’s homemade, and people love that.”
There’s lunch and soup specials every day. Weekends will have a sandwich, omelet, and pancake or French toast special. “Every day, we have an omelet of the day,” said Chadbourne. “On the weekends, it’s the same omelet. People always look for the special. They get to try different things and they love it.”
In a rush? Grab an egg sandwich and take it with you. “We prep anywhere from 60-250 for FedEx a few times a month,” said Merker.
At The Dam has house-made fish and chips on Fridays and Saturdays. You’ve got foot long hotdogs and burgers, too. There’s even the Dam Buster: three eggs, home fries, toast, and either three pancakes or French toast with a choice of meat.
You won’t be leaving with an empty stomach, that’s for sure.
Running a restaurant isn’t for everyone. When asked what a normal day looked like for Chadbourne and Merker, there was a down-to-earth response.
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“There’s no such thing as normal in the restaurant business,” said Chadbourne. “I usually get here at about 6 am The front prep work is done the night before. I’ll leave at 4:30 pm that afternoon.”
“I come in around 6:15 am,” said Merker. “Sometimes I have to go run around in the mornings to the restaurant depo and get some stuff. People think we’ll leave at 2:05 pm since we close at 2. We’re lucky if we’re out by 4:30 pm on a good day.”
Even so, neither see it as work. It’s challenging, but rewarding. Their customers are what make the difference.
“There are several people in Broad Brook and the surrounding towns that come in every day, even from the beginning,” said Chadbourne. “They chit chat and make friends. Word spreads.”
Both Chadbourne and Merker love being their own bosses and getting to chat with regulars and newcomers alike. It’s why they put so much effort into the food they serve. It’s where their veterans’ wall came from: to showcase every customer who’s served in the armed forces.
Now on their third year, both are excited for what’s to come for their cozy nook in Broad Brook.
At The Dam is located at 100 Main St. in Broad Brook.