Dunbar House Restaurant & Tea Room overlooking beautiful Shawme Pond, serves lunch & afternoon tea 7 Days a Week from 11-4, located at 1 Water Street in Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod.

508 833-2485 

Cape Cod Times Review 2016


By Lorelei Stevens


SANDWICH — With its fireplaces, soothing piano music, charming décor and menu offerings from tea and scones to hot turkey sandwiches, the Dunbar House Restaurant and Tea Room is a gathering place for friends and coworkers and also a place of comfortable solitude for those looking for a respite from a too-busy world.

Jim and Paula Hegarty took over the tiny tea room business adjacent to the main house (circa 1740) in 1999 and ever since have been renovating and expanding to create a year-round establishment that customers can enjoy for special occasions or every day meals.

Last summer, the Hegartys replaced the original gift shop with a wine bar and English tavern and extended their hours on Friday and Saturday nights to serve tapas and dinner and appeal to even more customers.

“One of the nicest things that happens here,” Paula Hegarty says, “is when people say to me on their way out, ‘This was just the best time. This was just what I wanted it to be.’”

What is the most important thing your business does?

Paula Hegarty: We make people happy. People come in pairs when they need to talk to a friend. They come in larger groups, especially around the holidays, and they come by themselves. People find a lot of peace here. We have our special teas and finger sandwiches, fruited breads, desserts and scones with cream and jam. But we also have hearty entrees. A good portion of our weekend customers are men who come in here for a beer, a good serving of shepherd’s pie and a nice slice of cake. They leave here knowing this is not your average tea room.

Jim Hegarty: Everything is homemade. People come here from England and have the scones and say they’re as good, if not better, than what they have at home, which is quite a compliment.

How long have you been in business?

PH: It will be 16 years in April. The whole property needed a ton of work. We cleaned up the Tea Room and upgraded the kitchen. We put the Garden Room on seven years ago and then Jim designed the patio overlooking Shawme Pond. He’s done beautiful work with flowers, an arbor with mandevillas growing over it, a water fountain. It’s very soothing. About seven months ago, we replaced the shop with the wine bar.

What did you do before? 

PH: Before my children, I was an RN at St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women in Dorchester. I loved my job. Then we lived in Milton and brought up five children. It was the best time of my life. They were close in age and, all of a sudden, they were all gone off to college at once. I’m a workaholic. I used to summer as a child in Sandwich …

JH: So it was a natural when we decided to move to the Cape to come here, and we’re thrilled we did. I worked in Boston in investment banking and retired from that. Now I do a lot of the purchasing and all of the books and anything else that needs doing.

How big is your staff? 

JH: When we first started, we had probably four or five people. Now, in the off-season, we employ anywhere from 12 to 14 and, during the season, 20 to 22. A lot of them have been with us for many years. It’s nice. It adds closeness, a family kind of feeling.

PH: We had to increase staff because we have so many more people to serve with the additional rooms. We’re packed on the weekend. They’re all part-time. I do a lot of the cooking. All of our cakes are made in house. I get a lot of ideas from cookbooks. Even when the kids were little, I’d put them in for a nap and read cookbooks, especially the European ones.

How has the market changed since your business started?

JH: The cost of operation has increased dramatically. Food costs, utilities, insurance. Everything has doubled, even tripled. But we try to hold the line as far as our pricing goes.

PH: We added the wine bar and tapas menu because that’s what people were looking for.

JH: And it has attracted a younger group of people in their 30s and 40s. We have a guitar player who comes in occasionally and they love that. We have imported British beers and have increased the domestic beers. It’s a fun part of the business.

What are your plans for your business’ future?

PH: We’ll continue to put out the very best food and service that we can, being innovative with our menu.

JH: We live in the house next door. Sandwich is a great place to live, and the village here — there’s always so much going on. We’re having our First Night activities coming up and, for the first time, we’re having fireworks out over Shawme Pond.

What’s your most memorable moment with this business?

JH: There are little things all the time, but one was when we went on “Chronicle” about eight or nine years ago. That was exciting.

PH: That show put our bumbleberry pie on the map. It’s our signature pie – blackberry, raspberry, blueberry and strawberry. We talked about that on Chronicle. It aired on a Friday night and the floodgates opened up here on Saturday. Everyone was looking for bumbleberry pie.

JH: And, in 2006, we were chosen to be in the book, “The Great Tea Rooms of America.” The author, Bruce Richardson, called to say he wanted to fax us the book jacket, and it was a picture of our Tea Room with a fire going. That was the cover of the book. That was probably the greatest thing that’s happened to us since we’ve been in the business.

What advice do you have for someone starting out in business?

JH: Make sure you’re well capitalized and start off with the right people, team players with the same vision you have.

PH: And there are a lot of companies out there that provide services to you. Sysco is one. Martignetti’s is another. Take advantage of it. They’ll come in and train your employees about how best to talk to your customers. They want you to be successful. Cape Cod Beer is also very good like that.

What’s the biggest challenge about having a business on Cape Cod?

JH: One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the number of people who come in during the season.

PH: You’re doing 70, 80 lunches a day and then, bingo, it goes to 150. It’s a big swing. We’re very conscious about training staff. We’ve got some really good people now but it can be a challenge.

What’s the best thing about having a business on Cape Cod?

JH: Our guests and our regulars.

PH: There’s a lot of love going on. That’s the nicest thing, the camaraderie we have with our customers.