Little Grill

Little Grill Collective, located on North Main Street, has been a restaurant since the ’40s in many forms, but became a collective with multiple owners in 2003. 

Customers are greeted with a smile as soon as they walk into the Little Grill Collective. Paintings, prints and homemade Hula-Hoops decorate the walls of the cozy restaurant, and the smell of fresh pancakes hangs in the music-filled air as plates pass from the bustling kitchen to the tables of eager customers. Positive energy radiates throughout the Little Grill, and it’s clear to see why they were selected as Best of the ’Burg for brunch.

Graham Brouder, Molly Delaney and Tim Wiggins are the three youngest and newest owners of the restaurant and have been working at the restaurant for about two years.

Delaney explained that a restaurant has resided on the property of Little Grill for the past 75 years, and it officially got its name in the 1940s. Since its beginning, the restaurant has cycled through various owners who’ve each brought their own unique aspect to the Grill.

While the Grill is well-known for its brunch, it’s also known for its unique employment style. The Grill is best described as “employee owned.” Brouder explained that when an employee works at the Grill for six months or more, they have the opportunity to become a trial member. Trial members shadow current worker-owners to learn more about how the Grill operates and are required to attend meetings and complete a “self-directed project.” Once a trial member completes all these qualifications, they can go up for full membership, which denotes joint ownership. There are currently nine worker-owners at the Grill.

Membership and ownership are considered synonymous at the Grill. Employees are members of the cooperative, which owns the business. Employees have found that there are many benefits to the employment style. Running the restaurant as a cooperative has allowed them to have more stake in what happens at the Grill.

“I like that we have control over how we affect our community,” Delaney said. “We choose to put money into local vendors and be open to other events around town.”

Brouder cites the Grill as a place that promotes individuality.

“I have found it to be a very inclusive and supportive work environment,” Brouder said. “One that encourages people to be themselves and dress the way they want to and have a say in the music that we listen to and the events that go on here.”

Delaney believes that because it’s a worker-owner cooperative, it affects the pride of the employee’s work.

“We actually have a fiscal and emotional responsibility in giving [the customers] the best pancakes they’ve ever had,” Delaney said. “So there’s a little extra love going into our service and creations and what we put out there.”

Part of the Grill’s vision is to source from as many local vendors as possible, creating favorites such as Blue Monkey pancakes (blueberry-banana buttermilk pancakes) and Egg Scramblers that feature seasonal foods such as brussel sprouts and parsnips.

“We change our menu with the seasons so it reflects what’s available in our area,” Wiggins said.

Delaney said that the great thing about purchasing from local vendors is that it keeps the money in the community.

“You’re continuing to build up the community with that purchasing power,” Delaney said. “It’s just a great way to keep the economical fortitude within the community.”

Employees at the Little Grill pride the restaurant on not being a corporation. They adhere to a “boots-on-the-ground” mentality and everyone puts in their fair share of time. Wiggins likes the fact that money is passed to the people working there instead of up.

“The money isn’t being passed up to unknown people, it’s being passed up to people who are there working the shifts just like everyone else,” Wiggins said. “That makes it easier to work for, I know. It sucks working for a place where you don’t know where the money’s going.”

The employees at the Grill seem unanimous about the importance of the sincerity in their work.

“We don’t necessarily make as much as you would make in a corporate restaurant,” Brouder said, “but at least you can know the food is served with integrity to people who we have fostered a relationship with over the years.”

Contact Abby Church at churchae@dukes.jmu.edu.

Abby Church is the Editor-in-Chief of The Breeze. She’s a junior media arts and design major with a concentration in journalism and a minor in creative writing. Fun fact: she's an award winning reporter and rapper.