**An Interview with Stephen Marsh of LeGrand Kitchen**
So you’re moving?
Yeah. My plan had always been to buy the building, but the asking price was double of what we had in mind, about half a mil. It was one of those hard lessons to learn when being your own boss, you’re not making all the money that you thought. It gave me new respect for the owners of restaurants I used to work at, like, man, I was totally wrong about that. But also, it’s the lowest point on Colley, and it floods. So not being able to buy it was kind of a blessing in disguise because it pushed me to look elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love this building, and when we leave, I’m gonna cry like a little baby. But I’m looking forward to a new chapter.
A lot of people reached out, saying, “oh, we’d love to see you here in Oceanview. We’d love to see you here in the Railroad District.” And even this place right here (he gestures out the window toward The Shoppes at Park Place) reached out, but they’re asking $6,000 per month in rent. And sure it’s a brand new buildout, but $6k a month plus fitting it out for a restaurant, with a hood system, and the plumbing? You’re already in over your head. At that point, you need investors behind you, which I don’t want. There’s something to be said about being a locally-owned business, without getting too messy with investors, having a corporate feel, or things like that.
So how did you get hooked up with the Crackers space?
I worked for the owner, Chris, for about a year. This was in maybe 2012; I was between jobs, kinda burned out from a place I had worked for six years, and I just needed a reset. And Chris has always been a super nice guy. He’s an old punk rocker, so we got along, and we still talk from time to time. We’ve supported each other’s businesses over the years, and he reached out to me because he knew my situation. He said, “I think we can work something out we can both be happy with”.
Nice, so y’all go back a ways?
Yeah. When I worked there, Crackers was over on 21st Street. It was small, basically a bar and a couple of seats, but they still did the small tapas menu and nightly specials. It was such an incubator for culinary talent. It gave a lot of local chefs and cooks the freedom to explore and make new stuff, unlike a corporate restaurant with a set menu, where you always have to make the same things, every day, all year. Crackers was innovative and let the chefs – not just the main chef, but also the staff – experiment with different dishes. At the time, that was uncharted territory, and the customer base was into it. They would come to experience new things.
Crackers has been one of those restaurants where [Service] Industry people go after they get off work. Even when I was 18 or 19, it was the spot where Industry folks came to talk shop and talk shit. When you get off at 11 pm, there’s not much open beside McDonald’s. Crackers served good food and cocktails to people who served good food and cocktails.
I wanted to do the same with LeGrand. When we opened almost nine years ago, it was a place for Industry folks. They would come here to eat on their day off because we always took care of them and made food that was more exciting to them, and more experimental.
In what sense?
So for instance, we were doing stuffed pig trotters. We’d buy whole sides of pork and break them down and de-bone them. We’d stuff the trotters with morel mushrooms and serve them with mousseline sauce, which is basically a meat puree of chicken, cream, and mushrooms. It was a three-day process.
Yeah, but COVID really killed that. It seems like nobody wants to eat that kind of stuff anymore. Something flipped in people’s heads, and now they want things that are more familiar, things they can more easily identify with. One of our best sellers over the last few months has been braised short ribs; they’re really good, but in the grand scheme of things, not very inventive. The willingness to branch out and try something new has kind of disappeared, and folks only want a 100% safe bet. So we’re only doing pig-trotter-level things for special occasions now. But also, we’ve always had a burger on the menu. We’ve tried to hit the mark of like, you can come get a good burger and hang out, or you can come ball out and try new, creative plates.
Speaking of burgers and finely-tuned palates, have you seen The Menu?
Haha yeah, I loved it. I think the only issue I had was at the end when he was making that burger, and he put two pieces of cheese on each patty. Four pieces of cheese on a burger?! That’s a lot of cheese.
And speaking of new things, what’s next for LeGrand? What can people expect at the new location?
A full bar! We used to have a sister restaurant called Shiptown. LeGrand and Shiptown were both Norfolk record labels in the 60s. Anyway, Shiptown was an all-seafood restaurant with a great cocktail program. So we’re gonna bring back some of those cocktails.
We’re also going to open up the space a little more. Even though we’ll have the full bar, I want the focus to be on the dining experience rather than having the divided bar area and dining room.
The biggest question we get from customers has been, are we going to have seating at the kitchen? With the current [Crackers] set up, you can kind of see into the kitchen from the bar, so that’s what we’re going to do for now. Eventually, we’ll have a Chef’s Table in the kitchen, where we’ll hold special events. But to start out, we just want the transition to be smooth and get into the groove of serving double our current capacity.
As for the menu, we are staying true to what we’ve been doing all along. I was testing out fries, a couple different styles, and finally realized, you know what? I don’t want to do fries! They’re just fillers. I was going back and forth about it with my staff, and we agreed that we’d rather have some really good vegetables as a side instead of fries.
My bestie is vegetarian, and she loves eating at LeGrand because she just says, “I’m vegetarian,” and y’all hook her up.
Yeah, I’ve enjoyed doing that since Day One. We always try to excel with our vegetables because so many places do a really crappy job.
They really do! It’s a shame.
Yeah, we get a lot of compliments. Customers will say, “oh, that dish was great; but the best thing is whatever you did to the vegetables.” I think that really says something, and I’d like to experiment with some newer stuff too.
And that’s the whole thing – to be always evolving. We’re gonna keep serving our staples, like the burger, but I think that with everything in life if you’re not evolving while doing it, what’s the point? We’re always trying to reach our full potential, right? So you’ve got to challenge yourself. This has definitely been a challenge, but it’ll be worth it.
A peek behind the scenes of the new location at 4226 Granby St, Norfolk, VA 23504
Catie was born in Norfolk and as an adult has lived here for two years and change. She has a master's in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. She likes hiking, playing trivia, being a flaneuse, pinball, memes, and growing vegetables.