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The patrons were few at Monday evening's grand opening of the Brass Hat Cafe in Westminster. But then, what restaurant's opening night ever goes exactly according to plan?

"It's Day 1, and we just need to spread the word more and more," said Nina Christian, who founded the cafe. "We are hoping that more people show up day by day."

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Given the aromas of the food on Monday's menu — homemade baked ziti, parmesan rolls, salad and an assortment of cookies — that surely seems likely. And then there is the fact that the Brass Hat Cafe isn't your typical restaurant, and Christian not you typical restaurateur: She's the service unit manager at the Salvation Army of Carroll County.

"The Brass Hat Cafe is a soup kitchen, but we went with the name Brass Hat Cafe because we wanted to make it more of a personal type environment," Christian said. "The way we would like to set it up is the same way as if you are going to a restaurant — you have hosts, you have people that will be your server."

The whole experience is designed, she said, around the idea that just needing a meal doesn't mean you are not worthy of dignity and respect.

Inside the cafe, tables are set with cloth placemats and candles. Beginning with Monday's dinner, the cafe will be open 4:30 to 6 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Salvation Army's 300 Hahn Road location in Westminster.

Christian, for the time being, is doing much of the cooking. Tuesday's menu is centered around Philly cheeseburger subs. Wednesday will feature chicken alfredo.

If the opening night was slow, those who did dine became fast fans.

"I think it's a great idea, it's really cool. There are a lot of homeless people in town that it's going to help," said John Bulger, of Westminster, over a plate of food. "A lot of them aren't here right now because they are always slow to get going. Whenever something new starts, it always takes a little while before everybody remembers what days it is and what times it is."

Peggy Vick, center, Salvation Army director of social services for Central Maryland, registers cafe patrons with her sons Dakota, 14, and Kayden, 8. Chatting with Vick is Candice Harvey and her sons, Christian, 2, and Tristan Wadley, 4, of Baltimore. Gerald Millberry (rear) is the first patron of the Brass Hat Cafe, which opened Monday evening.
Peggy Vick, center, Salvation Army director of social services for Central Maryland, registers cafe patrons with her sons Dakota, 14, and Kayden, 8. Chatting with Vick is Candice Harvey and her sons, Christian, 2, and Tristan Wadley, 4, of Baltimore. Gerald Millberry (rear) is the first patron of the Brass Hat Cafe, which opened Monday evening. (Phil Grout / for Carroll County Times)

Part of breaking down the stigma sometimes associated with soup kitchens is making the cafe is open to anyone who needs a meal, regardless of their situation, said Janeen Johnally, communications director for the Salvation Army of Central Maryland.

"You don't have to be street homeless and it doesn't matter what you are wearing — I've seen men come to soup kitchens in business suits after getting off work," Johnally said. "This is for anybody that needs a meal, no questions asked."

"People go through tough times," Christian added. "I don't care if you have a full-time job or not, people go through rough patches."

For those that do not need a meal, but would like to become involved, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities available, according to Christian.

"We will take groups; we will take individuals. We will take teenagers, anyone who needs service learning hours," she said. "We could use cooks if you are a licensed cook or have some type of training that you can work in a kitchen. We needs hosts, we need servers, we need greeters — we need everything."

As the word spreads and the cafe grows, Christian said they would also be interested in hearing from musicians or anyone else with a talent that could help making the dining experience special for this new year-round program.

The logo for the Brass Hat Cafe is a stylized woman wearing a black hat and epaulets.

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"This is actually the Salvation Army donut girl from WWI and WWII," Christian said. They used to be out there on the field actually giving out donuts."

There is a lot of history to this then, she said, which gives the Brass Hat Cafe its deeper meaning.

"It's a synonym for dignity. The definition of [a brass hat] is a high ranking officer in the military," Christian said. "With this being the Salvation Army, we want everyone who comes here to be treated as if they are a high ranking officer by being treated with respect and dignity."

410-857-3317

If You Go

What: The Brass Hat Cafe

When: 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday

Where: 300 Hahn Road, Westminster

Cost: Free

For more information or to volunteer, call Nina Christian at 410-876-9358 or send email to nina.christian@uss.salvationarmy.org



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