Friday, January 25, 2008

Grannises to fire up the grill at new steakhouse


By BRIAN RAPP
News Editor
Clayton News Star
www.claytonnews-star.com


Michael Grannis just can’t seem to stay away from the kitchen.

Not content to handle a share of the breakfast duties at The Morning Glory Inn, which he’s owned with wife Betsy for the past five years, the one-time broiler cook for Sizzlers is returning to his roots next month when he opens the Clayton Steakhouse at 307 E. Main St.

Ironically, the new restaurant opens just a month after the closing of downtown Clayton’s original fine-dinner location, Main Steak Bistro, which closed its doors on Dec. 21 after seven years. “We actually had an opportunity last year to buy [Main Steak], but I felt the price was too high,” Grannis said. But even though he concedes that the final cost of renovating the old Fishman’s Feedery (the most recent in a string of dining-related businesses, including Farmer’s Market Café, El Rancherito and Macon’s Table, to locate in the building in the last 40-plus years) is probably more than the cost of buying Main Steak would have been, the end result will be worth the extra bucks.

“This floor plan is more conducive to what I want to do [than Main Steak’s],” Grannis said. “Plus, the landlord [HTR Investments] is taking care of most of the renovation cost. That’s coming back to me in the lease payments, but it’s still a better situation than we were looking at for some of the other locations we had in mind.”
Main Steak’s closing, which had been rumored to be in the offing for some time, was a factor in the decision to get back into the restaurant business, Grannis said. The couple previously owned restaurants in California for seven years before moving to Clayton, first in 1999 and again in 2003.

“We actually had been looking for two years for a location around town,” he said. “We looked at Main Steak, at Jeme’s [later Good Times Café], the Clayton Mart, even the new strip center they’re building out by Lowe’s Foods. By the beginning of 2006, we were thinking about putting a full-service kitchen in the inn and starting a catering business out of there.”

But when Barry Woodard offered Grannis a deal to rent (with an option to buy) the Main Street location, the opportunity was tempting enough to convince the Clayton town councilman to resign his two-year sales and marketing position with AB Automotive in Smithfield to pursue it.

Slated to open the first or second week of February, the Clayton Steakhouse encompasses 3,000 square feet on the south side of Main Street, almost directly across from Main Steak’s former location.

The main dining area can seat 76 people at 17 tables, seven situated in a private room that is first-come, first-serve. “We won’t accept reservations except for special occasions,” Grannis said.

A small bar up front features two high tables and a lounge area that can seat about 15. The bar will operate only during the restaurant’s hours and will offer top-shelf liquors, wines from California and Italy and a variety of lesser-known label and microbrew beers such as Red Tail Ale, Blue Moon, Sam Adams and Amstel, as well as the more traditional labels such as Bud and Miller Lite, Michelob and Yingling. Foreign brew connoisseurs will have a choice of Bass, Guinness, Corona and Dos Equis.
Dining fare for the Clayton Steakhouse has been kept simple. There are just five main entrees: ribeye steak (starting at eight ounces, increasing in two-ounce increments, with corresponding $2 price increases, up to a 32-ounce platter buster); a 12-ounce pork chop; an eight-ounce breast of chicken; an eight-ounce salmon fillet; and a loaded baked potato. All entries (except the baked potato) come with an unlimited salad bar featuring iceberg and romaine lettuce, 12 additional items and five or six dressings along with a standard baked potato. Drinks – also with free refills – include coffee, tea and Pepsi products.

The 800-square-foot kitchen has been completely remodeled and contains more than 15 pieces of equipment – all except one brand new.

Prices range from $8.95 for the stand-alone loaded baked potato to between $15 and $20 for the non-steak entrees. “The average bill is about $21 plus tax, which I think is a pretty good value,” Grannis said. Initially, the Clayton Steakhouse will be open for dinner only on Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Eventually, Grannis hopes to offer a Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a weekday lunch at the same hours from Tuesday through Saturday.

“I’d characterize this as a comfortable eating experience,” he said. “It won’t be fine dining; you don’t have to wear a coat and tie, and our staff will be dressed casually.” That staff will include Grannis, who intends to serve as the head cook until he can train a replacement. Betsy Grannis, who does the baking for the Morning Glory Inn, will handle the same chores for the restaurant, and other staff from the inn will be among the original seven-member crew that will work at the steakhouse.
Despite the past history of restaurants that have come – and all too often gone – on Main Street, Grannis believes there’s a place for not only the Clayton Steakhouse but the other new eateries planned for downtown.

“I think that with The Flipside, Mulberry, the new Mexican restaurant, and whoever does eventually replace Main Steak, you have enough diversity to attract people to come downtown to eat,” he said. “And if you produce a good product – not just the food, but your service and prices – and can create a certain ambience, or ‘welcomeness,’ as I call it, people will enjoy the experience.”

But most of all, Grannis feels a successful downtown restaurant will be another way of giving back to a community his family has become devoted to. “Even though Betsy and I weren’t born here, we consider ourselves locals,” he said. “People here have supported me by electing me to the Town Council and supported the inn to the nth degree, and this is our way of giving back and thanking them for that support. We plan to stay here, and this is part of that commitment.”