Little Grill Collective
|Little Grill Collective|
South on N. Main Street (Rte 11)
|Current owner(s)||worker-owned cooperative|
|Food type||healthy home-cooked|
|Street address||621 North Main Street|
Little Grill Collective is a worker-owned cooperative restaurant in Harrisonburg, Virginia in the United States. It was started in June 2003—in a building that has been operating as a restaurant since the 1930s. It is a member of the Downtown Dining Alliance and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. It is known for its quirky, eclectic, down-home atmosphere, with boxes of old Trivial Pursuit cards on the tables.
- 1 History
- 2 Ownership
- 3 Menu
- 4 Entertainment
- 5 Venue
- 6 Awards, honors, and distinctions
- 7 Video
- 8 Notes
- 9 See also
- 10 External links
The Little Grill has been a restaurant in Harrisonburg, Virginia since the 1930s; before that it was a bathhouse for a nearby swimming pool. In the early 1980s, Christopher Boyer, working for then owner and "master chef" Maria Prytula—a Ukrainian-born artist and poet (d. 2012)—started renting the place out on weekend nights to present rock shows and theater. The restaurant's "hippified" atmosphere began during this period. Chris bought the restaurant in 1985 with blues musician and Little Grill cook, Bob Driver—at which point the diner became a full-service restaurant serving three meals a day, with live entertainment on the weekends. John Eckman bought out Boyer’s share of the business in 1986, and he and Driver sold the restaurant to Tom Kildea in 1990. Kildea sold the restaurant to his former employee Ron Copeland in 1992.
Copeland introduced menu changes aimed at appealing to healthy-minded diners and vegetarians. He also removed from sale all products produced by multinational such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, and Folgers from the restaurant.
Free Food For All Soup Kitchen
Copeland’s initial contribution was a Free Food For All Soup Kitchen, which served hot, homemade noon meals at the diner without charge to "anyone in the world" every Monday from October 1992 on. This soup kitchen led to the long-term creation of Our Community Place which now exists in a former Salvation Army building across the street.
When Copeland decided to sell the Grill, after feeling a religious calling to Christian seminary, individual employees he approached were not interested in buying. He considered some sort of group ownership, and began researching models found in The Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley, California and the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain; key features of a collective being a vote for each owner, and share of profits apportioned according to labor input (not capital). In 2002, regular meetings began with Grill workers with an aim toward forming a worker-owned corporation—which would ultimately be called The Little Grill Cooperative. In June 2003, this new collective purchased the restaurant from Copeland, using what they called “community financing” to procure the down payment. Since then the collective aimed to work for localizing the food and creating what they regards as "a healthy work environment for a fulfilling job experience".
The video The Little Grill was created by JMU students in November 2008, describing how the Little Grill Collective began.
Little Grill Collective is a worker-owned, democratically-managed cooperative, where members have joined together to produce goods and/or services for sale. Each new worker-owner at Little Grill buys into the business to solidify ownership. Profits are distributed to the members "on the basis of patronage (buying at, working at or selling through the business)." Business control is exercised by membership on a one-member/one-vote basis.
The ratio of worker-owners to employees fluctuates regularly, generally being about half owners, half employees. Employees have the opportunity to become owners after working a minimum of 6 months. Coordinators are designated for many operational aspects of the restaurant such as: "arts and entertainment (music and art shows), back of house (kitchen systems and food ordering), financial (bills, payroll and taxes), front of house (training, dining room), human resources (schedule and hiring), human relations (evaluations, mediations), maintenance (building repairs, inspections), public relations (advertising), and retail foods (catering)." Coordinators have autonomy to make certain decisions and spend money without consulting with the group. Owners and employees "can get paid to work on" committees addressing any of these areas.
Membership meets twice a month to "go over our financial reports, check in with new hires, make announcements, introduce ideas, set the dates for other meetings, create committees, and make a wide range of decisions." A different owner is selected to "solidify the agenda and facilitate each meeting." Decisions are made "on a consensus basis . . with an 80% majority."
Current worker-owners of Little Grill Collective as of April 2015 (date joined cooperative in parentheses):
A list of former worker-owners is maintained at the Little Grill webpage.
Since October 1992, the menu has aimed at appealing to healthy-minded eaters and vegetarians. The restaurant serves beer and makes take-out meals available anytime they do not have a waiting list for service in the diner. A smartphone app launched September 2011 “allows users mobile access to the menu, blog updates and even trivia questions highlighting the eatery's history.”
Breakfast plates include Tofu Scrambler, Beth's Favorite (scrambled eggs), and The Dooley (served with gravy). Tofu is included in several of their breakfast specials, including tofu rancheros, tofu scrambler, tofu burrito, and tofu grinder. They offer buttermilk and buckwheat pancakes, including Blue Monkeys (bananas and blueberries in buttermilk batter) and rotating seasonal pancakes. Omelets include the Western, and the "Love Omelet" made with the restaurant's "Love Burger" (see below).
"We kind of go all over the place—we do the eggs any style, and lots of breakfast specials. Everything's made from scratch—we make really good tofu. Pancakes are pretty popular—we've got a wide variety; the whole-wheat Blue Monkey [is popular].— Chris Howdyshell, worker-owner
The Blue Monkey pancakes have inspired a T-shirt, featuring a blue monkey eating pancakes, for sale in the restaurant . ."
Lunch offerings included felafel and lemon tahini appetizer, made with homemade felafel balls and served with homemade lemon tahini dressing, Veggie Chef salad. Meals specials include Go Ask Alyce (“crisp homemade felafel with sauteed mushrooms”), Greek Alyce (with feta cheese), and Felafel in a Pita (“topped with diced tomatoes and lemon tahini dressing”). Special sandwiches include Tempeh Rueben, BBQ Tempeh, local, free-range chicken in BBQ sauce, and local organic hamburger. During the summer of 2015, the restaurant transitioned to offering a seasonally rotating lunch menu utilizing local ingredients in-season. The restaurant no longer serves dinner, but is open some evenings for special events or private parties.
Prior to the summer 2015 menu transition, special menu nights at Little Grill happened on set days of the week. Tuesday was Mexi Night, Wednesday was Indian Night or Wildcard Special depending on the chef, Thursday was Breakfast Night, and Friday was Down Home Night/Southern Cookin'. Although the restaurant is no longer open nightly year-round, Mexi-Night is still offered Tuesday nights June through August.
The Little Grill takes part in the semiannual Taste of Downtown, a week-long event that features lunch and dinner specials at most downtown Harrisonburg restaurants who put together discounted menu offerings and combos as a promotional activity initiated by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, a nonprofit revitalization group, in 2008.
"The Little Grill is a bit of a rarity. It’s tough to find vegan spare ribs so delicious you never want the real thing again. It’s near impossible to stumble upon a restaurant with only farm fresh eggs and locally grown chicken. And an actual worker-owned collective? I had never even heard of another in these parts!"
Little Grill make all of their own pancake batters, biscuits, picante, Spanish rice, chili, etc. The ingredients are free from high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, or rbgh growth hormones. As a vegan and trans-fat free butter alternative they use Earth Balance on the grill. They also make their own "soysage", a vegan sausage alternative, made from scratch, using whole soybeans, whole wheat flour, and a range of spices. They also offer a "Love Burger": a whole-grain vegetarian 'burger', spiced and grilled. At breakfast this is added to the "Love Omelet". Groovy Gravy, vegetarian and vegan gravy made from mushrooms, goes on top of honey wheat biscuits, potato cakes, or fried potatoes.
All bread products—wheat sub rolls; cinnamon swirl sourdough; wheat, white, and rye breads—are made by a local baker in Dayton, Virginia. Bagels are baked at a local bagel bakery. Free-range eggs come from a local poultry provider; meats are sourced locally. They source as much produce as they can from nearby businesses such as Muddy Bikes Urban Garden, Our Community Farm, and Radical Roots Community Farms.
To replace such multinational brands as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, and Folgers, Little Grill uses natural and 'homemade' substitutes such as 'homemade lemonade' and 'homemade ginger lemonade'. Blue Sky provides the cream soda, Virgil's the root beer and cola, while diet sodas come from Zevia. Teas and coffee are all Equal Exchange.
Little Grill offered entertainment from local writing, performing, musical, and comedic talents—through a regular weekly open stage and special shows. Every Thursday night they would present an open mic for poets, storytellers, comics, and musicians, including students from James Madison University. Historically, the founders of both The Hackensaw Boys and Old Crow Medicine Show—Robert St. Ours, David Sickmen, Rob Bullington, Chris “Critter” Fuqua, Ketch Secor, etc.—met and performed at the Little Grill open mic.
Special shows include fundraisers for local organizations, dramatic works created by owner and open mic emcee Chris Howdyshell, and comedy. The first "Ha-Ha Fest" that occurred in February 2012 is a recent example of these. "The Girl Who Died Most Mysteriously", a play with original songs written by Little Grill worker/owner Chris Howdyshell, was performed October 2011—with his musical group The Dish Dogs backing “a local cast of non-actors.”
Wednesday nights had previously been reserved for a game of bingo involving diners as players.
As a music Little Grill is noted for showing upcoming and popular local and regional acts, as well as more broadly known groups. Touring acts working their way down Interstate 81, perhaps from larger music markets up north such as Philadelphia or New York, to southern regions often stop in to perform. Local and regional acts which have appeared there include: The Hackensaw Boys, The Steel Wheels, and Joe Overton and the Clear Blue Sky. Many employees (and shared owners) of the Little Grill have been musicians, often appearing there themselves. Owner Chris Howdyshell, who emcees the weekly open mic and puts on special shows, has formed Red River Rollercoaster and The Dish Dogs—often performing on the Little Grill stage. He draws personnel from the Grill, such as Ashley Hunter and Joshua Vana. Past musicians who have worked there include Robert St. Ours (founder of The Hackensaw Boys), his brother Phillip St. Ours (founder of Pantherburn), Billy Brett and Terry Turtle (founders of Buck Gooter), Lara Mack and Kyle Oehmke (both members of The Dish Dogs). Others include Greg Ward and Nick Melas.
Three St. Ours brothers, Chris “Critter” Fuqua, and Ketch Secor founded the Route 11 Boys—precursor group to both The Hackensaw Boys and Old Crow Medicine Show. Secor has said, regarding the role of Little Grill open mic in his musical career, it was "really the first chance that . . (he and) Critter had to play on stage." Being "a bit younger" than the "college students at James Madison University who typically hung out there" Secor says "They knew that we had talent, but it was raw. I mean, I was up there beating on a jaw harp when I was 13."
It was at Little Grill Ketch first saw his "contemporary" Robert St. Ours—who later went on to found The Hackensaw Boys—singing and "he was so cool with his leather jacket and side burns. I knew that's what I wanted to do." Secor formed the Route 11 Boys with St. Ours and his brothers and performed often at Little Grill.
Non-local acts known more prominently outside the region have included Andy Friedman, Paul Curreri and his wife Devon Sproule, housemates Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin, Anais Mitchell, Mary Gauthier, Tony Furtado, The Two Man Gentlemen Band, The Wiyos, and Adrienne Young and Little Sadie, Of performing at Little Grill, Young has said: "Best show ever. The energy was so palatable (sic)."
The Little Grill venue has been used to record music. Previous owner Tom Kildea recorded his album Love Like Wood there in 1999.
Little Grill serves as a venue each year for The Mid-Atlantic College Radio Conference (MACRoCk), joining other downtown Harrisonburg venues Artful Dodger, Blue Nile, Clementine, Court Square Theater, and Downtown 34 Music (in 2011).
Musical acts that performed during the 2011 festival at Little Grill included: Low Branches, Bison, Wailin’ Storms, Spirit Family Reunion, Auld Lang Syne, Luke Saunders, and Cat Magic Co. The Daily News-Record describes MACRoCk as an . .
“. . eclectic mix of bands brings thousands of independent music enthusiasts to downtown Harrisonburg every spring. Festivalgoers cram into local venues to hear groups from throughout the East Coast jamming out tunes ranging from folk to garage metal and everything in between.”
Adrienne Young & Little Sadie performed June 27, 2008 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local' in support of FoodRoutes Network (FRN), a national non-profit organization that aims to support other localized groups that encourage sustainable agriculture and community-based food systems. Her group headlined at the annual Our Community Place Lawn Jam the following day.
Noted area musicians organized and performed in a fundraiser in support of local musician and luthier Steve Parks, from nearby Dayton, who had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, in 2008. Performers included blues musician Bob Driver, former owner of the Grill; together they formed the musical group Parks & Driver.
Ketch Secor and Chris “Critter” Fuqua appeared there, together with Robert and Phillip St. Ours on January 14, 2012 to support Our Community Place. If Johnny St. Ours had not been filming a documentary elsewhere, they might have had a complete reunion of the Route 11 Boys—precursor group to both The Hackensaw Boys (which Robert St. Ours helped found) and Old Crow Medicine Show (which Secor and Fuqua helped found). This reunion was the first time that many of the original members of Route 11 Boys had performed together, and marked a return to Old Crow for Fuqua, a return to Harrisonburg for Secor, and a collective return to where it all began for all of them.
Having recently lost one of its original founders, the group had been going through a difficult time and was in need of a renewal. As Secor recounts:
"After Willie (Watson) departed things were just kind of haywire for a while. Critter and I got to talking about wanting to play some Conjunto down in San Antonio, or maybe go back up to Maine like we'd done in the Route 11 Boys. Both of things as a way of getting back to the reason we set out making music in the first place. What we decided on was heading back up the valley and playing at the Little Grill where we'd literally first got started. Being back home again was full of pure goodness and renewal, just to sing with an old pal in an old haunt. For some folks it was like we'd never left Rockingham County. As we pulled outta town, we picked up a hitchiker (sic), a kid we knew from high school, and dropped him off at his Mom's house in Weyer's Cave (sic) just like time hadn't flinched."
Fuqua concurs that the "whole 'Ketch and Critter' tour" that year "was pretty special":
"It is hard to describe all the emotions that I felt as Ketch and I rolled off the Cumberland plateau (sic) and into the Smokies, then up to our old home place in the snowy Shenandoah Valley. It felt so right, so pure, so redemptive. Ketch and I have both been through a lot during our separation these last four or five years, and this trip was cathartic in a cosmic sort of sense. We have always remained the best of friends, but at the core of our friendship, among many other things, is this passion for music, an old, bardic spirit that needed to be rekindled."
Extra special was the visit to the Grill for Fuqua:
"The highlight of the trip for me was playing at the Little Grill . . This is where Ketch and I cut our teeth when we were 13, and it felt like the hero's journey, the one we all take in life, and we had come full circle. All the money we made . . went . . to support . . Our Community Place. Ron Copeland, the Little Grill visionary and now Mennonite Preacher (sic), was thrilled, and it felt so good to give back to him, because he gave us so much. A place to smoke and drink coffee and play songs and fall in love with velvet paintings of Bob Dylan."
Adding to their nostalgic return were their previous band mates and friends: "Our good buddies from the Route 11 boys, the St. Ours brothers, Phillip and Robert Holy Bear, got on stage with us, and that sealed the deal. Heaven."
Awards, honors, and distinctions
- Little Grill was voted Best Breakfast and Best Vegetarian in the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 Daily News-Record Best of the Valley survey.
- Ketch & Critter - "River of Jordan" live @ the Little Grill, Harrisonburg, VA 1/14/12 Ketch Secor and Chris “Critter” Fuque of Old Crow Medicine Show perform at fundraiser for Our Community Place, January 14, 2012.
- Big Men @ the Little Grill August 17, 2011: “Flatpicking champ (and former KS secretary of state) Chris Biggs and Living Legend Steve Hinrichs treat the crowd at the Little Grill to a rollicking instrumental.”
- Max Jeffers - 20th Century Blues at the Little Grill 5-20-11 “Max Jeffers plays 20th Century Blues at the Little Grill in Harrisonburg, VA with Uncle Mountain (NC) and Michael Bowman on 5-20-11.”
- ”A Little App Happy” by Doug Manners, Daily News-Record; September 20, 2011.
- "Obituaries: Maria O. Prytula". Daily-News Record. October 23, 2012.
- History Little Grill Collective webpage.
- Our Community Place
- Worker-owned Collectives Little Grill Collective webpage.
- Our Collective Model Little Grill Collective webpage.
- About Us: Who We Are Little Grill Collective.
- Breakfast menu Little Grill Collective webpage.
- "Neither Breakfast Nor Lunch, It's Brunch" by Kate Kersey; Daily News-Record, August 29, 2012; B4 & B6.
- Lunch/Dinner Little Grill Collective webpage.
- ”Serving Up Specials” by Doug Manners, Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA); August 13, 2011.
- MACROCK 2012 blog entry; March 30, 2011.
- ”A Comic Collective” by Joshua Brown, Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA); February 3, 2012.
- “Collective Effort” by Samantha Cole, Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA); October 27, 2011.
- Americana Rhythm Music Magazine "American Roots from the Soul" by Greg Tutwiler May/June 2009 issue.
- ”Newgrass singer to debut new songs from The Art of Virtue at The Little Grill” by Martin Cizmar, Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA); October 13, 2005.
- MACRoCk website.
- ”What is MACRoCk?” The Valley Underground; March 30, 2011.
- "SHOW(s) OF THE WEEK!" thevalleyunderground; March 20, 2011.
- ”Rockin' Rocktown” by Doug Manners, Daily News-Record; May 26, 2011.
- ”Hometown Boys Make Good” by Michael J. Farrand, Our Community Place Newsletter, Issue #23; February 2012.
- Mateer, Chris (16 July 2012). "Interview: Ketch, Critter, & Morgan of Old Crow Medicine Show Discuss "Carry Me Back"". No Depression. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
- ”Downtown Dominates DNR “Best of the Valley” Awards Downtown Hburg blog.
- ”2011 Best of the Valley Winners” May 26, 2011; Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA).