"Bruce's Famous Chili, Hot or Mild"
By Lara Bricker
Hampton Union, Tuesday, January 20, 2009
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Lara Bricker photo]
HAMPTON -- Locals craving a taste of Bruce Aquizap's homemade chili made famous almost two decades ago at TNT Subs are in luck.
Aquizap and his daughter Victoria "Tori" Labonte, 46, who first opened the sub shop in 1989, have returned to the Route 1 landmark. The father and daughter pair took over the shop last summer and are in the process of revamping the menu selections.
One thing that was not sold with the business when Labonte moved on from TNT a number of years ago was her father's chili recipe, called the best chili in town by many. With the return of the family, Aquizap, a retired Navy lieutenant, is back in the chili business.
"I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," Aquizap replied when asked what makes the chili so special. "Everybody said it was the best chili in town. They just like it because it has an authentic Tex-Mex flavor."
The 76-year-old Hampton native makes the chili in 10 gallon batches and remembers a time when he used to make even larger vats of the spicy or mild variety each week.
The sub shop, which aims to be a comfortable place for families and others, has a distinct Hawaiian flair. The ambiance comes from the seven years the family lived in Hawaii when Aquizap was stationed there.
When the family returned to Hampton to the home that Aquizap grew up in, Labonte began working in local sub shops. She went on to manage several of the shops before deciding in 1989 that she wanted to go out on her own.
The space on Route 1 was a video store at the time and Labonte, along with her father and mother, Pat, set to work getting the place ready to open.
Labonte held a contest to name the shop while working at Eastman's in Seabrook and chose TNT, Tori's Notorious Torpedoes, as the name.
After her parents' semi-retired to Florida, Labonte felt it was time for a change. She was burned out and tried something completely different when she opened an herbal store in town.
She also had a son, Samuel, now five-years-old, and was able to spend some time with him before he went off to school. Samuel is now the third generation of the family in the shop and often comes in to hang out after school.
"He comes in and he wants quarters, and so he gets to clean the tables for quarters," Labonte said.
Labonte received a call about the family's former shop going up for sale just after her mother passed away last year. She had been considering returning to the business and decided to make the move.
Since returning to the shop, Labonte has begun updating the menu and is working to include some more healthful selections, such as take away salads and whole-wheat sub rolls.
The shop is known for its steak and cheese subs, as well as for the size of their largest sub, which is 15 inches long. The largest size steak and cheese contains a full pound of meat.
TNT's signature cold sub is the Italian, which is made with an assortment of meats and fresh veggies.
In addition, it offers a selection of tacos and burritos with assorted wraps and seven flavors of soup.
Many of the shop's former staff members are now working for the family again, and a number of their old customers have returned as well.
"They're glad the original owners are back," Labonte said, adding her goal for the shop is simple. "I want something good for you, at a decent price, that's delicious."