A Day in the Life at the Hazell Nut Café
A Day in the Life at the Hazell Nut Café

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

The sun was still tucked away and the stars were out as Vasilios Baggeas ’14, Reilley McGee ’16 and Lauren Cudgma ’15 made their way to the Hazell Nut Café on a recent Friday morning.

It was 5:50 a.m. The campus was hushed as the three began to prep for the café’s opening at eight, wearing their neat, pressed dress blacks and chef’s caps.

Baggeas, the general manager, checked inventory and got the registers ready. McGee, the café’s purchasing manager, spooned fudge brownie batter into a long pan and folded in chocolate chip cookie dough drops. Cudgma, a staff member and management trainee, cleaned the counters and made urns of fresh coffee.

The Hazell Nut Café is one of the first full-service cafés in the country run entirely by students.

For two hours, they baked, organized and prepped. Just before 8 a.m., their first customer, Joe Cruscuolo from the facilities department, stopped in for his daily bagel and coffee. “I’m here every day,” he said. “They make everything fresh, and the students work very hard. They’re very respectful and helpful. And the coffee’s great.”

'Learning How to Manage Everything'

The Hazell Nut Café is the essence of experiential education.

Managed and staffed by the students in the hospitality and tourism management department, it is one of the first full-service cafés in the country run entirely by students, said Juline Mills, professor and department chair. “Most university hospitality and tourism programs have restaurants that are training labs and faculty members play a role in running those,” she said. UNH’s Jeffery’s Fusion, a fine-dining campus restaurant, is such an example. 

“But with the Hazell Nut Café, I say, ‘Here are the keys to your business.’”

Mills and chef Christopher Gentile, academic director of the hospitality and the tourism management department’s food service operation, act as advisors, and last semester’s student managers stay on as consultants. But it is essentially the students’ café to run. They handle budgeting, banking, ordering, planning and training staff, as well as food preparation, service, sanitation and marketing – the entire sweep of a café operation.

“We are not a culinary school," said Baggeas. “We are a business-management department concentrating in a particular industry – hospitality and tourism. We are learning how to manage everything having to do with the service business. You get the opportunity to try running your own business without the risk of owning your own business. It is one of the best opportunities I could ever have.”

McGee handles the purchasing. “It’s a huge job, and I had no idea how involved it was,” she said. “We measure everything by the ounce, so we know exactly how much we use and need.”
Daily, she and the other managers check the loose teas, the spices, the flour and the supply of vegetables, meats, cheeses and pizza boxes. 

“If we add even one ingredient to a baked good or offer a new product, we have to know, to the last ingredient, the very last chocolate chip, exactly how much it will cost us to make,” Baggeas added. “And we have to ensure we have everything we need when we open.”

'Hidden Jewel of Maxcy Hall'

The café – renovated last winter and rededicated to honor the generosity of donor Jeff Hazell ’83 – is a vibrant place with a cheery chef gracing the wallpaper, white teapots dangling from the ceiling and bookshelves brimming with volumes of cookbooks, foodie favorites and fictional culinary tales from Mills’ personal library.

It’s known for the daily pizza specials, particularly the lobster (customers called it a steal at $4 a pie) and “the Hazell Nut,” a delightful confection featuring Nutella and fresh strawberries. Students do all the marketing including the often humorous and tantalizing campuswide email blasts announcing specials.

Later this month, the management team is planning a day of pizza sampling. “We are often considered the hidden jewel of Maxcy Hall, and we want to get the word out to everyone,” Baggeas said. 

On Friday morning the coffee, egg sandwich and pastry business was brisk. McGee baked strawberry shortbread as the pastry case – full of homemade chocolate almond biscotti, banana streusel muffins and spiced nuts – began to empty, their goal each Friday, so very little goes to waste. The coffee a ground Jamaican blend at a dollar a cup is always a big seller.

The Hazell Nut Café staff members create new baked goods every week and recently added gluten-free, fat-free and sugar-free items to meet customer demands and stay competitive with other campus cafés, Mills said.

By 10 a.m., the shift changed and pizza manager Samantha Miceli ’16 and Sthefanie Velez ’16 began cutting peppers and onions, cooking steak and making sure they had enough of the sauce they make from scratch, while Oscar Valenzuela ’16 served coffee and pastry.  By 11 a.m. the first lunch customer arrived. The pizzas are named after films and books such as the Eat Pray Love, Who Moved My Cheese and The Gladiator.  Baggeas, McGee and Miceli put their own stamp on the lunch menu, adding the Maxcy and Philly hot pockets.

At this lunch rush, many seemed to be craving the “The Rocky,” thinly sliced steak, peppers, onions, cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Velez got down to business, stretching the dough, adding sauce, peppers, onions and cheese and putting more steak in the oven. She sprinkled corn meal on the pizza paddle, and soon she and the team were making one pizza and pocket after another. Miceli dashed in the back to prep some sauces.

Lobster is a central menu item, an ingredient the faculty, staff and students can never get enough of. Most Wednesdays, they are lined up into the hall waiting on the lobster pizza and lobster roll specials.

'That's Just Part of Learning'

Jeff Hazell donates the fresh lobster meat and, he says, he’s proud the café can offer “great food at great prices. I spent summers working on my father’s lobster boat,” he said. “Lobster continues to be a big part of my life.”

Hazell owns Bar Harbor Lobster Company, Florida’s largest distributor of New England seafood, as well as Boston Lobster Feast restaurant, with locations in Orlando and Kissimmee, and Clawdaddy’s food trucks, which serve premium lobster rolls at locations throughout Disney World.

On the first lobster pizza and lobster roll special day this semester, the café ran out of rolls a half hour after opening. “So they had to go back and figure how they could have predicted that and how they can do better ordering,” Mills said. “That’s just part of learning. They also have to find ways to let customers know that they have lobster every day.”

She reminds them, “Specials bring the customer in; full price pays the bills.”

Such teachable moments illustrate just why it is such a valuable experience, Hazell said. To thrive in the business of hospitality and tourism, students must know the breadth and scope of the life of a manager. “This gives them the hands-on experience,” he said. “They need to get their hands dirty. They need to see that they have to get up early and get those baked goods in the oven and do all the basic ordering and food preparation.”

Hazell said he still uses everything he learned as a student. “If it wasn’t for the hospitality program at UNH, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.

Hospitality and tourism students can concentrate in one of four management areas:  hotel and resort, event and tourism, food service or spa. In addition to their academic classes, Mills said their experiential component is ambitious, with a requirement of 200 hours of community service, 400 hours of field work and 600 hours of internships. “The café teaches them confidence,” she said. “It turns them into leaders.”

McGee conceded that it’s a challenge balancing her café work with six classes, the honors program and her own personal goal to make the Dean’s list every semester. “But it’s so worth it,” she said. “You learn by doing here, and I love that about UNH.”

For Baggeas, who grew up in a family restaurant, the experience is everything he could have hoped for. “I remember seeing my father in his chef’s whites, watching his demeanor with the customers and their back and forth, and I wanted that,” he said. “I’m a people person, and this is a people business.” 

The café has taught him so much about managing, team building, supervising staff, remaining positive and offering a delicious product and a smile, no matter how busy a lunch rush gets, as it did on this Friday afternoon.   

“Dr. Mills told us the way to keep a calm head in any kind of service-related business, whenever it gets very hectic, is to step in the back,” he said. “Take a deep breath and come back out and face the world. It works.”

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