If it’s Wednesday then LNA Health Careers employees must be eating free lunch at Diz’s Cafe

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Maddy Morin serves up lunch to, from left, Kathy Palumbo, former receptionist at LNA Health Careers, enjoying lunch with instructors Beverly Cogburn, Lisa Roche, and Beth Labrecque. They eat at Diz’s Cafe every Wednesday on the boss’ dime, a perk that has built a sense of community. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Every Wednesday as a part of her routine Judi Window slides a “reserved” sign on one of the long tables at Diz’s Cafe. She’s making a space for the lunch bunch from LNA Health Careers at the request of Kerri Dutton, company president and the brains behind a rather unique way to keep her staff of instructors well-fed and motivated.

“I’m a workaholic – which is nothing to be proud of – but I noticed my staff mirroring what I was doing, which was eating at their desks and not leaving the building,” says Dutton. 

The business, which provides training programs for entry-level caregivers in nursing homes and home health including Licensed Nursing Assistants, Licensed Practical Nurses,  Medical Nursing Assistants, and phlebotomists –  is located in the heart of the downtown at 70 Market St., so there’s no shortage of lunch options. 

But Dutton concedes it was easier for herself and her staff to stay in with a bag lunch, or more often than not, wait for a DoorDash delivery. 

Considering the cost of a McDonald’s chicken salad dropped at the door, Dutton wanted to do better for her staff, so she reached out to Window with what she thought might be a “weird” idea.

“I’ve been working on finding ways of making people enjoy being at work more, the old work-life balance,” says Dutton. Since instituting the mid-week lunch bunch at Diz’s, nobody wants to work from home on Wednesdays, she says.

Window was more than receptive.

“I said, ‘We love weird ideas!’ although to be honest, once she told me her idea, it’s really more ingenious than weird,” says Window. 

Dutton pays for her employees to get out of the office on Wednesdays. All they have to do is walk across the Middle Street parking lot and up Cat Alley. One left turn and they’ve arrived at Diz’s, where they can order whatever they want and Dutton picks up the tab. 

Fresh air, fresh food and somewhere around 600 healthy round-trip steps taken in the direction of free lunch have proven to be a winning combination, says Dutton.

For the past nine months anywhere from 10-12 instructors gather at Diz’s – sometimes together, but really they can go anytime it fits their schedules between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Window keeps the reserved sign on the table and will even have their food ready and waiting if they want to call ahead. 

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Sign of the times: If it’s Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. this table will be reserved for the LNA Health Careers instructors. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“That way they can spend a little more time eating and socializing instead of waiting for their food,” says Window. 

And when you do the math of what they’re saving on DoorDash and gaining from a free lunch, it’s the equivalent of about $1 an hour raise in their pay, says Window.

Now that they’re regulars, Window’s staff anticipates whatever they may need, which also makes lunch hour feel special.

As for ground rules, there aren’t many – but the first rule of the LNA lunch bunch club is that no one talks about work.

“Although sometimes they do, because it’s what they have in common,” notes Dutton. 

Beverly Cogburn, who has been director of the LPN program for about 2½ years, finds that work really doesn’t come up as much as you might expect.

“It’s great because you work with people and you don’t really know them outside of that building. But once we’re here it’s like a whole new world – you learn things about each other and it makes work better because you know more about the people you’re side by side with,” Cogburn said.

On this particular Wednesday it’s Beth Lebreque’s first time as part of the lunch bunch. 

“My reaction? This is awesome. Other days of the week I bring my own lunch because I’m visiting clinical sites, so I’m never in one place. This is the one day I can slow down a little and enjoy myself,” says Lebrecque, who is an LPN instructor. 

LeBrecque says while it’s her first time eating with the group, she is no stranger to Diz’s. She came on her own after her co-workers raved about it.

“They got me hooked on the chicken bites,” LeBrecque says.

Lisa Roche and Kathy Palumbo are also enjoying the camaraderie. 

“I actually recently got laid off but I still come on Wednesdays because I like it so much,” says Palumbo, who was a receptionist for the company. “This is my first time as an outsider – but isn’t this a great way to stay connected?”

“Oh she’ll never be an outsider to us,” says Roche.

As work benefits go, Roche says this one is huge.

“It’s nice to have something like this to look forward to. We usually order ahead and it’s an easy walk through Cat Alley. I’ve never heard of a benefit like this before but as a job perk I’d give it an 8 out of 10.”

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From left, co-owner of Diz’s Judi Window, LNA Health Careers job placement specialist Michell Escobar and enrollment specialst Jessica Duplak, Owner/president Kerri Dutton and Diz’s General Manager Amanda Window. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Dutton worked in the field as a registered nurse for 35 years before purchasing the company in 2020. 

“I always worked in nursing homes and just from lack of staff wanted to do something different so I started my own school first, and that grew and then when the LNA Health Careers owner was retiring, it seemed like great timing for me,” says Dutton. “They were around for 20 years before I bought it.”

She also owns Excel Testing, which administers the Nursing Assistant competency exams for the state of NH​​. 

Coming from a place of experience, Dutton appreciates the opportunity to change the script and make sure students are trained to do their best in a field where caregiving is everything.

“We train people to be the LNAs I always wished I had or was trained to be – they’re ready right out of school to go out into the field,” says Dutton, whether it’s in a nursing home or private duty. “Or they can start their own business.”

There is also another trend that she has seen on the rise in the disability space.

“We have a large core of students training as caregivers for children with a disability. We’re seeing a lot more parents coming in to become LNAs and then they can get paid through the state to be their child’s caregiver,” Dutton says. 

It fulfills a need among home care agencies trying to help clients with positions that are in high demand. 

“They’re getting creative and asking if there is anyone in your family that would be willing to do the job, and in a lot of cases, a parent is stepping up to get the required training,” Dutton says.  

As the lunch bunch chats over their chicken bites Window takes it all in, with a knowing smile. She understands the butterfly effect and sees the way ripples of happy customers continue to bring new business in all the time.

 “Our theory is that we’re building a restaurant clientele one customer at a time – you come in, you bring your people, and they bring their people,” says Window. “I don’t know how many times I see someone come in and then run over to another person’s table who they know. They get so excited because they introduced them to Diz’s and now they’re here bringing someone else,” says Window. “To me, that’s the foundation you build a business on.”

And while Dutton is the first business owner to come up with an “Eat at Diz’s for Free” perk, Window says she’s open to any other creative response to feeding people a business owner might dream up. 

“Kerri had goals. She told me she wanted them to get out of the office and she wanted them walking to a lunch destination where they had good meal choices and a community table. Those were her parameters. Another company might want something different, with different goals – it could be happy hour, or some other celebration, but we’re here to help them bring an idea to life,” Window says.

Diz’s Cafe is located at 860 Elm Street, Manchester, NH.

Serving Lunch and Supper: Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Fri. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Serving Breakfast*, Lunch, Supper (*Breakfast served until Noon) Sat. 8:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.   

Serving Breakfast: Sun. 8:30 a.m.-Noon

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!