Dunk’s opening weekend a slam dunk
Patrons described the new sports grill’s atmosphere as “electric” and the food as “fire.”
The sports bar and restaurant opened on May 6.
Fifteen-dollar beer buckets, Gatorade and tequila “G-Shots” and comfort food options have attracted droves of Dartmouth students to Dunk’s Sports Grill, Hanover’s newest eatery. The sports bar and restaurant opened on May 6.
“It’s been crazy,” owner Anthony Barnett said.
Barnett, who also owns Molly’s Restaurant & Bar and Jesse’s Steakhouse, said that food sales have comprised 50% of Dunk’s revenue thus far, while Molly’s, another hybrid restaurant and bar in town, regularly reports 73% of their revenue in food sales. The other half of Dunk’s revenue has come from alcohol sales, which he said was unexpected given the breakdown at Molly’s.
Barnett said that Dunk’s faced issues during opening week sourcing certain food and beverage items — such as chicken wings and quality tequila — as a result of pandemic-related shortages. Dunk’s was also affected by the Upper Valley labor shortage and faced some trouble staffing the new business.
Although Dunk’s had planned to do roughly 30% of its sales at lunch, the demand for evening service has led Barnett to scale back operating hours — the restaurant and bar will now open at 4 p.m. rather than 11:30 a.m.
“Dartmouth kids know how to party,” he said.
Barnett said that on opening night, the scene at Dunk’s got “out of control,” noting difficulties maintaining social distancing and a safe indoor capacity. Moving forward, he said, he will adjust for increased demand at night, noting that he plans to hire a night shift manager.
“We didn’t have enough servers for the amount of guests we had, so we doubled our servers and added a bartender,” he said, explaining that staff that had normally worked the lunch shift were transferred to the night shift.
He added that since the parent chain that owns Dunk’s, Blue Sky Restaurant Group, also owns other restaurants in the area, like Molly’s, he can pull staff from those restaurants, as well.
Dunk’s line cook Christine Decato — who has worked for Blue Sky Restaurant Group for several years — said she expected some obstacles on opening night.
“On openings, you always expect the worst,” she said. “You have to have a good attitude about it.”
Behind the kitchen’s swinging doors, Decato rotates between the fry station, the grill and plating meals, among other roles. One of her favorite menu items is the “hand-cut” fries. She also recommended that patrons order the “beautiful” poké bowl topped with avocado and fresh fish.
“It’s a great place — I am looking forward to a day off when I can come in and enjoy it,” she said.
Barnett said that he tried to ensure that Dunk’s food and beverage offerings do not overlap with nearby establishments’ menus, which led to some creative choices, such as the “brown bag special.”
“It’s a five-dollar gamble,” assistant manager and self-proclaimed Dunk’s “beer guru” Keegan Carpenter said.
“You receive a craft beer not listed on our menu, and we serve it in a little brown bag,” he said. “I go up to the tables and do a little drum-roll. The kids love it.”
Tim Strang ’22 said he and two friends ordered the “brown bag special.” They received two IPAs and a “sweet, brown stout,” neither of which had been on the menu.
“Now that I am 21 and hearing stories of my friends from other colleges and their college bars, I hope [Dartmouth] can be like that,” Strang said, noting that Dunk’s had a “great atmosphere.”
Barnett said the reception to the brown bag special has been “absolutely incredible,” but other popular options include fifteen-dollar beer buckets, craft beer served in pitchers and homemade cocktails.
Noting that he is operating a bar in a college town, Barnett said Dunk’s staff check to ensure patrons are of age.
“We check IDs for everyone,” he said. “If the weekends continue like they are, we will card at the door instead of having the servers do it,” he said, noting that managers will be posted at the Dunk’s entrance on future nights.
Will Cook-Healy ’23 described the atmosphere at Dunk’s as “electric.”
“We dropped in there Saturday afternoon [and] the service was pretty friendly,” he said. “They had some sports reruns going, which got everyone juiced up, and the burger was pretty fire.”
Cook-Healy said he feels that, previously, the town of Hanover has lacked the student-centered atmosphere Dunk’s provides. He added that the restaurant and bar has already made headway into Dartmouth culture.
“It’s almost a running joke now: ‘What are we going to do? Let’s go to Dunk's,’” Cook-Healy said, adding that the College’s recent heightened scrutiny of Greek houses — on May 7, Office of Greek Life director Brian Joyce sent an email to Greek leadership warning of the consequences of “unauthorized gatherings” — has led students to seek out other social options.
“It’s nice to have an option outside of [Greek life],” he said, but he noted that restaurants acting as a social outlet for students can be “cost-prohibitive” to some on campus.
In line with COVID-19 safety suggestions, Barnett said that Dunk’s is currently operating at around 75% capacity and that each of his restaurants differs in their implementation of social distancing efforts and physical barriers like plexiglass.
“For this restaurant, we might not need it,” he said. “At Jesse’s, we will leave everything in place, because that’s an older population. Here, we are serving a lot of Dartmouth faculty and students.”
Town manager Julia Griffin wrote in an email statement that Hanover is requiring restaurants to follow New Hampshire’s “Universal Best Practices,” which include encouraging the use of face masks, frequent hand hygiene and limiting party sizes. The guidelines, effective May 8, are set to replace the state’s “Safer at Home 2.0” business operation guidance that had been in place since March 2020.
“We are simply not comfortable with releasing all restrictions, particularly when you see the relatively low number of total vaccinations,” she wrote, noting that many Dartmouth students have not completed their vaccination sequence. As of Wednesday, 33% of on-campus students, faculty and staff have submitted proof of full vaccination to the College, according to the College's COVID-19 dashboard.
Griffin wrote that the town has provided information on these restrictions to Dunk’s, and that the Hanover Health Officer is “in the process” of stopping by local restaurants to ensure compliance.
Both Carpenter and Decato said they feel comfortable going into work, despite the pandemic.
“The volume of people seemed to be a lot,” Decato said.“But [Dunk’s management closed] certain tables in order to spread out groups. There is also the patio option to make people feel more comfortable outside.”
Decato said that Dunk’s precautions include taking staff members' temperatures when they come into work and asking staff to report any potential symptoms. She added that staff are also required to wear masks during shifts.
While complying with safety protocols has been relatively easy in the kitchen, she said it has been “a challenge” at the front of the house.
Beyond enforcing safety measures, Barnett said that the pandemic has also caused difficulties in sourcing labor and navigating a new spot in the local market. He noted that business is returning to normal levels rapidly — outpacing the ability to find staff.
“There is a huge labor shortage,” Barnett said. “We cannot find people [even though] I know that we pay competitively.”
He noted that kitchen staff are paid $15 per hour, almost eight dollars above the state’s minimum wage of $7.25.
“Let’s get some Dartmouth kids cooking — just because you have never cooked before doesn’t mean you couldn’t learn real quick,” Barnett said, adding that students could acquire the necessary skills in under a week.
While he has already fielded some calls from patrons seeking to rent out Dunk’s for a night, Barnett has no immediate plans to close down for private functions, despite the promise of great “short-term money.”
“We want to be the Dartmouth spot, but also the spot for high school kids and other locals,” he said.