Brenda Martel learned how to take care of a community from her parents, Barbara and Robert Dupont.
They donated to all kinds of causes, sponsored a child in the Philippines, volunteered to take patients to treatments, and took children into their home if the family was struggling. “I learned at a young age that everyone’s not as fortunate as my brother and I were growing up,” Brenda says. “It makes you feel good when you’re helping other people, particularly children. When you hear the stories, it’s heartbreaking—the need.
“It’s an emotional thing,” she adds, choking up for a moment.
Forty-one years ago, when Warren Bailey founded the Auction, hosting the first event live in downtown Laconia, broadcasting from a van, Brenda has been involved, primarily raising money through various initiatives at her restaurant in Laconia, Café Déjà Vu. After her mother passed away in 2011, Brenda ramped up her Pub Mania fundraising team and went all in.
In January 2012, she and her Pub Mania team co-captain Tony Felch, hired a comedian, Bucky Lewis, to perform in a benefit event at the Margate. Between ticket sales and raffles, the event raised about $8,000 for total team donation of $18,000. “That encouraged other teams to step up,” she says.
Over the years, Brenda’s Café Déjà Vu team—now a Challenge team—has offered hypnotist performances, band concerts, spaghetti dinners, and the Robbie Mills Memorial 8 Ball Tournament at various venues.
In the restaurant, employees—also members of the team—host fundraisers on holidays, putting baskets together and raffling them off, and they create bulletin boards with $100 worth of scratch tickets and sell chances to win for $5. Once there is a new winner, they reinvest $100 of the proceeds to buy more tickets and donate the rest.
One staff member sells homemade pies during the holidays, and a customer knits hats and donates the proceeds.
Each year, the Café Déjà Vu team is a top-raising Challenging team, raising $27,082 last year. This is a direct result of Brenda’s efforts to educate customers and community members about the Auction itself—what it is and who it serves.
“I’m an ambassador for the Auction,” she says. “I’ve spent hours and hours explaining to customers what the Auction does. They turn from apathetic to ‘How can I help?’ That’s an amazing feeling to turn somebody’s opinion.”
Talking to customers and building relationships is one of the things Brenda loves about running her restaurant.
A Laconia native, she graduated from Laconia High School and took some community college courses in office management before starting work as a server in a restaurant. She also worked for her mother for a time at Barbara’s restaurant, Sunshine Coffee Shop, where Café Déjà Vu is today. After a temporary closing in 1995, Brenda reopened the business with her mother; Barbara retired in 1997, and Brenda has been the sole proprietor since, with her husband, Matt Martel.
While Brenda’s two children have worked for her, learning every aspect of the business, she sent them to college and told them not to get in the restaurant business; sometimes the challenges are immense—everything from construction on Court Street to staff transitions to recent pandemic-related supply issues. “We’ve made it through,” she says.
It makes Brenda feel good to help community, and she loves that the funds raised stay local. She is making sure her grandchildren understand altruism—and need. “They need to know that not everybody has everything that they have,” she says, noting she takes them to buy food that will be donated. “Continuing the cycle—that’s the plan.”