Nina Christian and Andrea Gill baking white chocolate brownies.

Brass Hat Cafe Serves Dinner with Dignity

By: David Ibata

When is a soup kitchen more than just a soup kitchen? When it’s the Brass Hat Café.

“’Brass Hat’ is a symbol of dignity. We want our café focused on dignity and respect,” said Nina Christian, director of The Salvation Army Service Center for Carroll County, Maryland. “The definition of ‘Brass Hat’ is a high-ranking officer in the Army. We want to make it as though someone who comes through our doors is a high-ranking officer. It also goes with the theme of The Salvation Army.”

The service center, at 300 Hahn Road in Westminster, opened the café April 10. Its hours are 4:30 to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It meets a need for evening meals – most soup kitchens are open only for lunch – and lets families eat dinner together, as children are in school at midday. About half its patrons are expected to be families.

“When it comes to soup kitchens, there’s kind of a stigma,” Christian said. “People have an idea of a dull, cold kind of place where food is slopped on a tray. We want to make it more of a place where people feel they’re coming to a restaurant or café. We want them to feel at home and make it more about community.”

To set the mood, guests are welcomed by a greeter and seated by a host. Meals are intended to be cooked from scratch. Volunteers – Christian had 25 to start with and is hoping for 50 recurring volunteers – bring food to the table, which is set for dining out, right down to the centerpiece. The center also seeks volunteer musicians to provide the entertainment.

It’s the first time the service center has offered meals in its space, a former miniature golf course building that it has occupied for 21 years. The dining room is small – it seats only 50 people – so if capacity is reached, meals can go home in carryout boxes.

“This will normalize food service for people who don’t have opportunities to go out for dinner … a personal dining experience for anyone in need – the elderly, the homeless, someone living paycheck to paycheck,” said Janeen Johnally, communications director for The Salvation Army of Central Maryland. “In their area of Carroll County (northwest of Baltimore), there aren’t a lot of dinner options available.”

Operating costs are estimated at $150 a day for groceries plus donations from local restaurants, businesses, church groups and other sponsors.

“Eventually, if we are able to take it on, we would like to take care of the rest of the week, but starting out, we’d like to focus on these three days and see how it goes,” Christian said. “We just want to make it simple. If you need a meal, we’ll feed you.”

Those interested in learning more about the café and how to support it can contact Christian at or 410 876-9358.