Hatters Sports Lounge on East New York Avenue in DeLand has the goal of creating a gathering space. The new business is on the site of another gathering space, the former Grant Bly House, but the aim of the new business is different and less formal: a space for families to gather, play games, eat and enjoy special events.
The story of Hatters is also the story of Ben Mireles, the owner.
Ben once made a promise to a family member to move closer to the water. He chose Florida on a whim, and here he met his wife, Nancy, who has been by his side through thick and thin.
After giving up his renovation business due to an injury, Mireles came up with an idea for a place where families could gather and bond over common ground. That idea quickly turned into Hatters Sports Lounge.
Grant Bly House had closed, and the location on East New York Avenue seemed perfect: a modern building designed to accommodate events, next door to a historic home, with plenty of room on the grounds for games and activities.
Then, on Oct. 1, 2018, with renovations underway, a fire likely caused by a lightning strike destroyed the historic house.
It was a big setback, especially since Ben didn’t have insurance on the building, but Hatters Sports Lounge finally opened its doors in March. Many have stopped by to check out the place, with quite a few people wanting to see the remnants of the Grant Bly House, Mireles said.
Ben has saved some pieces of the house, but visitors will be impressed by the site’s transformation. Much has been done to the grounds and the building, and Ben has even more in store for DeLand.
For now, the main building houses pool tables, TVs and claw machines, with plenty of space for large groups of people and more.
The menu at Hatters Sports Lounge is similar to that of many sports bars you’ve been to, with hand-held items such as hamburgers, chicken tenders, nachos, tacos and — of course — chicken wings. In keeping with the aim to be family-friendly, these foods will resonate with parents who may have a picky eater on their hands.
The main draw of Hatters is the wings, because of their pricing, which Ben said is the best value in town. Also, the wings are air-fried, rather than deep-fried, making them a potentially more healthful choice.
Ben said he did his homework before pricing his wings. He offers customers all-you-can-eat wings for $17 per person. The other wing options each come with a side, giving the customer more bang for his or her buck.
It’s all part of Ben’s plan to set Hatters Sports Lounge apart from the pack.
“We’ve really had to come up with concepts that are new to the area,” Ben said.
Among them: free delivery on any order, mix-and-match wings, flexibility on orders, and all-you-can-eat wings every day of the week.
Wing sauces are not listed on the menu, and this is because the sauce selection changes every day. All sauces are made fresh, with some room for variation. You can either ask your server what sauces are available, or you can request a specific sauce and they’ll likely be able to accommodate your preference.
On the day I stopped in, the sauce options were Main Dragon (hot), Little Dragon (mild), Garlic Parm, barbecue, and the Hatters Mix.
Our order: a basket of wings with Little Dragon sauce, a side of Beer Battered Twister Fries, deluxe nachos, and mozzarella bites.
The wings were crispy and tender, with the only downside being that the sauce was on the lighter side. With the wings slightly dry because of the air-frying, extra sauce could’ve taken these wings to the next level. If you run into this with your meal, simply ask the staff to re-sauce them.
The nachos earned their “deluxe” label, with many toppings, including lettuce, chili and cheese, which all tasted fresh. All the chips are also made fresh in-house, which you can easily tell by the taste. They also differ from typical nachos in being a little thicker and saltier.
The mozzarella bites are different than you might expect, too: less like a stick and more like a plank, with more cheese and a softer crust. Each bite was cheesy in only the best way.
A fun little addendum is the Hatters Sports Lounge sweet tea. Ben said it’s a type of sweet tea you can usually only get in Texas. He didn’t go over the exact ingredients, but it tasted sweeter than usual, with perhaps a hint of honey.
Although the food items and beer-and-wine selection are somewhat typical for this type of venue, there’s a bit of a twist added to some items, which is refreshing. The venue itself adds to the ambience: Owing to the surrounding undeveloped area, you feel like you’re out in the woods somewhere away from civilization, although you’re right on busy New York Avenue.
Ben stressed that making sure customers are satisfied with their food is a top priority. If customers are unhappy about something, he said, he and his staff will do their best to make it right.
This goes hand in hand with Ben’s goal of empowering customers to customize any menu item at no cost.
“I don’t do the whole nickel and dime thing here,” Ben said. “If someone wants extra cheese, they get it.”
Ben wants the community to know that Hatters Sports Lounge isn’t just another bar.
“We want to be different; we want to be unique; we want people to know we’re all about community,” he said.
With a motto of “Where community is family,” Ben envisions Hatters as a home away from home for DeLand-area residents.
Ben has a six-phase plan for the restaurant’s eventual build-out, including more seating, covered areas, and a stage, even a community recreation center. Getting the word out about the business has been the hardest hurdle so far, he said.
There has, however, been some interest and encouragement from regulars in having live music, comedy shows and karaoke, so perhaps more events will bring people in. Currently, karaoke night takes place every Tuesday and Thursday, and Ben is looking for other entertainment to book.
He encourages members of the community to come experience Hatters Sports Lounge firsthand.
“The only way someone can judge any particular place is to come in for themselves and actually find out,” Ben said.
He and his team are working to give everyone a place where they can “hear music, play games and eat great food.”