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Alice O’Leary Kerrigan has a theory: If she was in business school and received an assignment to develop a restaurant concept, The Blazer’s business model would fail.

“If my plan was to use plastic tablecloths and paper placemats, have a two-page menu that should technically be one but the font is just really big, not offer dessert, be located in a residential neighborhood in the middle of nowhere and have no freezer to store food, I would get an F,” she says.

Yet The Blazer, in all its simplicity, has succeeded for over 50 years. Kerrigan hasn’t changed too much in the 29 years she’s served as general manager, and neither has her sister Colleen O’Leary Duffy, the assistant manager. In fact, perhaps the biggest change that was made occurred soon after Emer and Tommy Murphy transferred the restaurant to the sisters’ parents in 1988. Shortly after the deal (which was made with a handshake), their mom made her opinion known.

“My mother felt strongly that we should have coleslaw on the menu, and she made great coleslaw,” Kerrigan recalls. “So, she would make it at home and drive it to the restaurant. People got used to the coleslaw, and then she’d go play golf and we didn’t have any coleslaw. Or she’d go to Cape Cod, and we didn’t have any coleslaw. Finally, I said, ‘Mom, you need to come to the restaurant so we can figure out how to do it ourselves.’ We still use my mother’s recipe today.”

Kerrigan has also added a signature dish to the menu.

“The tomato soup with bacon started with me – I created it,” she says. “Years ago, people would call to ask what kind of soup we had that day. Eventually, I asked them what kind of soup they were looking for, and they’d say ‘tomato.’ So, at some point, we switched to serving tomato soup every day, even in the summer.”

College pennants fill many of the walls at The Blazer. It began with their employees’ schools, which are at the front of the restaurant. But these days, the walls are filled with pennants from around the country, all courtesy of customers who didn’t see their alma mater on the wall.

The Blazer is also known for their burgers and fries, chili, bistro sauce, blue cheese sauce, chicken fingers, wings and Reuben sandwiches. They’re all on the menu year-round, even during the summer. And some items, like the tomato soup and the bistro sauce, are so beloved that people have tried, and failed, to replicate the recipes. And while the sisters won’t reveal the secret ingredients, not even to their family, they will discuss the secret to their beloved burgers.

“We use fresh, unfrozen meat – it’s delivered daily,” says Duffy. “And it’s also the way we cook, which is different than a lot of other places. We don’t freeze anything – everything is fresh.”

“And we don’t use heat lamps either,” Kerrigan added. “We use Hellman’s Mayonnaise in our potato salad and we serve Heinz ketchup. We don’t skimp on ingredients.”

But that’s only part of what makes The Blazer such an iconic restaurant. The sisters run their restaurant as though it’s their home and everyone is family – customers and employees. And while you’ve likely heard that line from numerous businesses, at The Blazer, it’s actually true.

Pea soup, baked stuffed potato, potato leek soup, corn chowder – one of several pages Kerrigan and Duffy keep handy so they can call their customers when a favorite item is on the menu.

In fact, take two steps into the kitchen and you’ll find all the proof you’ll need. Across from the telephone on the left wall are several hand-written pages tucked inside a clear pocket. Each page contains a list of names and phone numbers, grouped by the rotating specials (soups, and chowders, roast beef, etc.). When they serve one of their specials, they’ll call the customers on that list to share the good news. They could send an email or a text, or do nothing at all, but they choose to pick up the phone and make each call. And if they haven’t seen a regular in a while, they’ll also give them call to check in and make sure they’re okay.

Their employees – cooks, waitstaff, bartenders, etc. – are treated with the same affection. If someone needs to take a night off or reduce their hours, they can request it without fear of repercussion. In fact, it’s never really goodbye when an employee leaves for college or any other reason. Instead, it’s “Good luck, and please stop by when you’re in town. Maybe you can pick a few shifts to relieve those who are working doubles during the holiday season.”

“We have minimal turnover,” says Kerrigan. “Our longest employee has been here for over 40 years, and our kitchen staff have been here about 20 years. Many of our waitstaff start working here in high school and then on and off in college, nursing school, law school, etc.

“We teach them skills that help them become successful adults, no matter their business,” she continues. “For example, you must look up and make eye contact when you say hello to someone, you need to be cooperative and work as a team. Not every restaurant teaches these skills, but it’s part of what we do at The Blazer.”

They do all of this because, as you’ll often hear them say, it’s part of their charm.

Several years ago, a customer donated $100 to buy a drink for future veterans who sit at the bar. Whenever a veteran receives their free drink, they’re so touched by the gesture that they leave money to pay it forward for the next one. Often, what they leave is considerably more than the drink they received, which keeps the fund going.

This article was published in the July/August 2022 print edition of Katonah Connect.

Editor-in-Chief at Connect to Northern Westchester | Website | + posts

Gia Miller is an award-winning journalist and the editor-in-chief/co-publisher of Connect to Northern Westchester. She has a magazine journalism degree (yes, that's a real thing) from the University of Georgia and has written for countless national publications, ranging from SELF to The Washington Post. Gia desperately wishes schools still taught grammar. Also, she wants everyone to know they can delete the word "that" from about 90% of their sentences, and there's no such thing as "first annual." When she's not running her media empire, Gia enjoys spending quality time with friends and family, laughing at her crazy dog and listening to a good podcast. She thanks multiple alarms, fermented grapes and her amazing husband for helping her get through each day. Her love languages are food and humor.