.Empire Grille: The New ‘Eating House’

Sandwiches, burgers, salads, chops. This was the simplicity of the idea behind a new restaurant in Felton called Empire Grille, which had a soft opening this summer. Owner Roger Barnes says that the Empire Grille is an homage to the old “eating houses” that used to be found in mining communities like Felton. He took the time to talk to GT about his modern take on the concept.

What are eating houses?

ROGER BARNES: Lumberjacks and miners worked in this area, and there were eating houses—places you went to eat, not particularly to “dine.” It had to be affordable. People would come, eat hearty food and meet each other. And often, the company that they worked for had an account at that particular eating house. The social economic landscape of this area is changing, but the sense of community is very strong. Food choices and menu choices are changing. The eating habits reflect that change. More people consume meals away from home. It’s often simpler and less time consuming to go out and eat. The Empire Grille is an eating house. I serve food you can recognize. I serve food you can pronounce. Comfortable foods. Comfortable interactions.

You have something on your menu called the Abientôt Lunch Box. What is that?

It’s a play on words for the bento box. À bientôt means “see you soon” in French. It’s actually a lunch box. It’s a sandwich with either French fries or macaroni salad or a salad and a beverage. I put that on the menu because a lot of teachers are coming in and ordering 10 of them for their class, or they’re going on a field trip, and the bus will swing by and pick up 15. Office managers pick up 10 to 15 boxes for their staff. I’ve got a specials board. Today’s is ham and cheese, BLTs. I change the Abientôt Boxes once every couple of weeks. I was changing them more regularly, but the kids don’t like the change. The office managers have their list on their walls or their refrigerators. Everyone knows what they are. If I change them too soon, they get mad at me. They want the thing that they had before. So I have to be careful.

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6155 Hwy. 9, Felton. 704-2130.

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