Embracing the Grocerant

Turning her restaurant into a pantry, and now exploring meal kits, a young restaurateur fights back with innovation and grit

Photo: Grace owner, Angie Murphy

ANGIE MURPHY THOUGHT the worst was over for her brand-new restaurant when the work on Dundas Place finally ended in December. After almost nine years working in other kitchens, she fulfilled a dream by ­opening Grace last summer.

Named after her grandmother, it was an immediate hit with fans of great cuisine made from local fare. Still, it was a tough start with six months of construction right outside her front door at Dundas and Clarence.

Those months are now known as the good old days.

“We’d had such a great response in our first year. A lot of people have invested in me. There was no option to give up. We had to try a Hail Mary to keep things going, to keep our ­supply chain of more than 100 suppliers intact,” says Murphy.

Embracing the Grocerant  Highlights

After two weeks of quarantine and brainstorming, she launched her first Hail Mary on March 30. With a reduced staff of four (down from 17), the restaurant transformed into Grace Pantry. They took orders and packed locally sourced food for weekly pickup or delivery.

“The first week, we had about 90 orders. The second week, it jumped to more than 200. People wanted ­farm-fresh meats and a lot of flour and yeast. We sold 80 packs of yeast the first day.”

“A lot of people have invested in me. There was no option to give up” —Angie Murphy

To make it work, she and her skeleton staff transformed the dining room into a staging area. As numbers grew, ­delivery became impossible, so the service transformed almost entirely to pick-up. Delivery is still available for a fee, if needed.

“After the first couple of weeks, the rules changed and we could include alcohol with the orders.That blew it wide open. We realized it was a viable way to keep the business going.”

Story Continues BelowEmbracing the Grocerant  Highlights

Murphy hired a few people back and was up to seven staff when the next phase of reopening kicked in. But as we’ve come to understand, operating a restaurant at less than full capacity while offering a full menu isn’t a great business model.

In late June, the restaurant opened a patio – Grace Veranda – available Thursday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sittings are 90 minutes with a three-course prix fixe menu. The next idea will be meal kits: more than a grocery order but based on that model.

Embracing the Grocerant  Highlights

“The meal kit idea could be an opportunity we wouldn’t have considered,” Murphy says. “There are lots of talented people in the restaurant business, but they tire of the late hours and working weekends. If you have people creating meal kits, they can work during the day. We’re going to explore it.”

Murphy’s mother, Ruth Ann, began sewing face masks, which are for sale with Pantry orders. And the restaurant has just unveiled its first-ever merch: t-shirts from Antler River Press that read, “Supporting Local Will Be Our Saving Grace.” Embracing the Grocerant  Highlights Christopher Clark

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