It's not a diner although it's been called one. It used to be a drugstore soda fountain back in the day but that moniker doesn't apply anymore. Luncheonette? Maybe, kinda, except that a luncheonette is defined as an establishment serving light lunches only and that would exclude the hundreds of early breakfasts served here every day. In the end, thousands of fiercely loyal customers, for want of a formal title, call it by its name -- the Sugar Bowl, home to the hungry citizens of Darien for more than half a century.
In 1950, a certain Edna Mazza bought the Sugar Bowl in Darien with the idea of working it herself with a small staff. It would serve classic comfort food, a business idea that, when done right by a caring owner, is as close to a sure thing as you're going to find in America. Edna Mazza was a hard worker, the number one requirement in the restaurant trade. Irish/German, she was married to an Italian businessman. Her three sons were put through college with the proceeds derived from selling bacon, eggs and a near infinite stack of pancakes.
Bob Mazza, Edna's son, is trim and handsome with a full head of pepper and salt hair and a tan so rich and deep, it's a wonder he hasn't been contacted by George Hamilton to get his secret. The sole owner of the Sugar Bowl, Bob Mazza has been running the establishment for 35 years since the untimely passing of his mother. "I never thought this would be my path." he said. "I have a BA and an MBA. I was working as a buyer at Bergdorf Goodman in the city when I got the call that mom was sick, so I took three weeks off to come and help." He never left.
You know how it feels when you have guests staying with you and you've got to get up early to make breakfast for say, six? Mazza does it every single day for literally hundreds. He pops out of bed at 3:45 a.m. in order to prep the hundreds of breakfast ingredients needed for the day.
"My secret to success is -- I'm here. The salesmen that come in tell me how many restaurants they go to and never see the owner. I know the customers want to see me too, and I take care of them. Every day I spend twenty bucks on the newspapers so they'll have something to read. It's the details"
All right, so we've established that running the Sugar Bowl requires long hours, hard physical work and attention to detail. But it turns out the sweet little restaurant came close to killing Mazza.
"Four years ago, I was on my way out after closing," he said, "when I suddenly remembered I hadn't changed the air filter. Better to do it while it was on my mind. So I went in the kitchen and jumped up on a stool. It flipped over and I went flying. I broke both my hands, my nose, six ribs and I was out cold for two hours. When I came to, I called an employee with a key because I didn't want to call the firehouse and have my door broken down."
Let's do the math. 500 pounds of bacon a week, 600 pounds of potatoes and 13,800 eggs. Never mind the coffee, the flour, the burger meat and the million other indispensable items necessary to make sure the Sugar Bowl's patrons are well fed. The place is proof positive of famous chef Mario Batali's simple definition of a restaurant: "You buy food, fix it up, and sell it at a profit."
Oh, and there's one other small diversion to keep Mazza on his toes. He completely redecorates the place several times a year. Today, it's a festival of all things Americana in tribute to the Memorial Day holiday. The joint is swimming in red, white and blue bunting with enough whirligigs and flags to start a revolution. But that'll all come down in time for the beachy look of high summer in Nantucket and Block Island. Then there's the big one, Halloween. That takes 80 boxes of spooky paraphernalia to turn the place into the most terrifying restaurant you'll ever enjoy a BLT in. It's a ton of work but Mazza loves it.
And he loves his staff. One of his employees couldn't afford a real wedding so Mazza hired a Justice of the Peace, got a friend to make a cake, hired a DJ, set up a bar on the lunch counter, cleared a dance floor and everybody had a blast. It's no wonder his employees never leave.
Over the years, he's thought about a major overhaul and redecoration. His customers won't have it. They like it the way it is, which is the way it was, which is the way it will stay.
The Sugar Bowl is located at 1033 Post Road in Darien.