Off the top of my head, I can think of three restaurants that have made me so angry that I will never go back. At all three places, the food is fine. In fact, the food is delicious enough to tempt me to reconsider. But in each case, the service is so appallingly rude and the management so speechlessly incompetent that I’ve vowed that no one will ever see me there again—not if hell freezes over, not on the 12th of Never, not even when pigs fly.
It cracks me up, therefore, that in Waterford’s Jordan Village there is a restaurant known for cheerful servers and loyal regulars that happens to be called When Pigs Fly Café. Owners Sarina and Gwen McGugan weren’t trying to make a statement about the endangered art of customer service when they named the place—they chose the name for a completely different reason—but they do care deeply enough about the issue to make service a priority. A hometown atmosphere, really good breakfast scrambles, and plenty of homemade meals with seasonal ingredients keep the locals coming back, some of them so often that they even have dishes on the menu named after them.
Lauri Hary is one of the servers who have helped When Pigs Fly Café earn its reputation for friendly service. She’s waitressed there basically since the McGugans opened shop four years ago and is the lead server there and at their sister restaurant, Somewhere in Time in Mystic (which, by the way, is another amazing breakfast destination). A graduate of Ledyard High School, Hary lives in Ledyard in her childhood home with her husband, Peter, and her 7-year-old son, Matthew. At 35, she has been waitressing in small-town eateries for half of her life, experience that no doubt explains why she’s so good at it. She’s also pretty handy in the kitchen, where she makes some of the desserts and the homemade breads that When Pigs Fly uses for its locally famous French toast creations.
In our “waitress profile” this month, we salute Lauri Hary of When Pigs Fly Café.
What’s the best thing about working at When Pigs Fly?
“Two things. First, the regular customers… I have met and become friends with many people over the past four years. There are so many great people that I've gotten to know and care about like family. They care about us too. They know my schedule, want to know why I wasn’t here on my ‘normal’ day. They show concern for me and my family. It’s like my home away from home. Second, the owners and staff. The McGugans are hands down the kindest, most generous people I have worked for by far. They make you feel appreciated for what you do and bring to the table. They actually thank you or tell you you’re doing a great job. You don’t find that in many work places. …My co-workers are fantastic people too. I have seen many babies born into our restaurant family, some of us have dinner together, or just call each other when we need to talk. …We love teasing and joking with our regular customers. It’s like family, and like any family, we all get on each other’s nerves and frustrate one another. But at the end of the day we still love each other. I actually look forward to coming to work.”
What’s the best dish at When Pigs Fly? What’s so great about it?
“That’s a tough one. I don’t have a favorite, our menu is so extensive. One of the best sellers for breakfast is the quesadilla—scrambled eggs, avocado, bacon, and cheddar cheese in a grilled tortilla served with sour cream and salsa. Very tasty. For lunch, I would say the Billy Rad is one of my favorites. It’s a BLT with a twist—bacon, avocado, tomato, Monterey Jack, and dill on grilled sourdough. I just like it that if we have the ingredients, we’ll make whatever the customer asks for.”
What are your favorite restaurants (besides When Pigs Fly!)? What are your favorite dishes there?
“One of my favorite restaurants is the Dog Watch Café in Stonington Borough. It’s a great little place where you can look out over the water or sit outside with a drink in front of the fire. The food is great. I love the French onion soup and the shrimp scampi, and the service is friendly.”
Tell us about one of your dishes that are named after your regulars. How did it happen?
“A lot of the menu items are named after family, friends, and pets. The Keith Allan, Sandy McGoo, the Marguerite—all family. The Topper, Mazoo, Hocus Poachus—all pets. One of the more popular sandwiches on our menu got a name change when we redid our menus in December. It was formerly known as the Jimmy Durante but is now called the Mookie, the father of one of our managers.” For the record, the Mookie is a sandwich of turkey, house stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayonnaise on a kaiser roll.
What’s your fondest memory from When Pigs Fly?
“I have a lot of great memories in the four years I have been there. A month ago, on my birthday, two of my regular customers, Tony and Nancy, came to the restaurant on my day off. She brought me three bunches of tulips and told them to tell me they were from a secret admirer. It took me two weeks to figure out it was them!”
Have you ever waited on a celebrity? Who? Did they tip well?
“I have never waited on a ‘celebrity,’ so to speak, but at one of my former jobs, I waited on Bob from Bob’s Discount Furniture. Does that count?”
If When Pigs Fly had catered the Last Supper, what would you have recommended for Jesus and his disciples to eat?
“If we catered the Last Supper, I would tell Jesus to eat one of our homemade breads for French toast that I make. It’s ‘heavenly.’ Ha!”
If you were headed to the electric chair tomorrow, what would you eat for your last supper?
"My grandmother’s roast beef and twice-baked potatoes, my uncle’s stuffed shrimp, a margarita, with the good tequila, of course, and Molly’s [another server] pineapple cream pie! But I might have to rethink that!”
If you weren’t working at When Pigs Fly, what would you do for a living?
“I don’t even want to think of that!”
Tell us something your regulars don’t know about you.
“That’s a dangerous question. I think people would be surprised to know that we eat a lot of take-out in our house. By the time dinner time rolls around on work days, we don’t have the energy. I think Eli’s Pizza just answers the phone, “You again?!”
Settle something for me once and for all—how much should people leave for a tip?
“Tipping—isn’t that a taboo subject? It makes me laugh, though, because I had a lady today pull out that little plastic card that tells you what to tip according to how much the bill is ... too funny. I would say a good rule of thumb is figure 20 percent plus how good was the service. That’s how I usually tip.”
What lessons about life can we learn from waiting tables?
“The greatest of compliments that I receive is when people ask if I am the owner. That tells me I am doing a good job, and that customers can tell that I really do care and love this place. The bottom line: Treat people the way you would want to be treated if it was you sitting at that table.”