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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Man About Town: Dunkin’ Drop-in

Man About Town: Dunkin’ Drop-in
(column for March 4 Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn

A sunny Sunday morning, fast-melting snow and a slick newspaper insert with a splashy photo of its new Big N’ Toasty Breakfast Sandwich inspired a trek to Dunkin’ Donuts at 593 Post Road.

Founded in 1950, the chain, with more than 9,700 locations in 31 countries worldwide, is one of America’s favorite everyday, all-day stops for coffee and baked goods. The retailer draws over $6 billion in global system-wide sales and opened 574 new locations worldwide just last year.

Patrons of the Fairfield location rarely think of its connection to a wider corporate network, however, and have adopted the store as a neighborhood fixture. Its feel is not that of a chain store but a mom-and-pop run café.

“I come here pretty much every Sunday,” said Bridgeporter Warren Bish, who has been a patron for the past four years. “It’s usually on the way to where I’m going, is quick and there’s a friendly and pleasant atmosphere. I come here so often, the clerks usually know what I’m going to get before I even order.”

Bish was enjoying sausage, egg and cheese on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel, which he described as his favorite.

The atmosphere certainly appeals – large picture windows looking out onto the busy Post Road, raspberry-colored tabletops and trim, modern lighting and checkerboard square tiling.

A true veteran of the establishment and 63-year resident of Fairfield, Bob Kutsagoitz has seen Dunkin’ evolve over time. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, since it opened about 50 years ago. Brooks Barrett owned it back then. It was like a one-man operation. He used to bake the donuts and serve coffee.”

The store was a pioneering business then, said Kutsagoitz. “This area was swampland. There used to be a clothing store called Robert Hall’s next door. The Dunkin’ store was small then and had tables and bar stools for two along the window. There were no four-seat tables like now. It was very family oriented and they didn’t have soda or juices, just coffee and donuts. Truckers used to stop in, too.”

The long-time patron has seen the retailer adapt, which hasn’t always been for the better. “The place has changed hands several times over the years. The latest owners doubled the size of the store and number of products sold and got a variance to build out to the roadside. With the introduction of sandwiches and other items, the wait got a bit longer at the register. Sometimes you just want to come in and get a coffee.”

Fairfielders Ben and Mary Ann Troidle have been coming to Dunkin’ every Sunday for the past seven years. “We like to have a light breakfast snack,” said Ben. “We both have the same thing every time – a Boston crème donut and latte for me and iced tea and jelly donut for Mary Ann. We’re creatures of habit.”

The menu is certainly wide enough to offer choices. It runs from breakfast sandwiches, bagels, muffins and classic Munchkins to lunch items like tuna salad and flatbread sandwiches. Of course, the coffee, from lattes to Coolatas, are a big attraction to the patronizing populace. This includes a mix of Fairfield University students, retirees, young parents with sports-involved kids and small clusters of friends who congregate and catch up on weekly events.

Customers stream through the door at a constant rate, queue up at the service counter and are invariably greeted “Hi, can I help you?” from staffers like this morning’s crew Assistant Manager Enrique and counter help Annette, Romi and Chris. They dart from baskets of baked goods and brewing machines to grills and toasters, staying two steps ahead of the flow.

With my 32-ounce “light and sweet” iced coffee in hand, I stepped back out into the steadily warming morning, another Man About Town mission completed.  

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