Photo By Isaac Harrell
From the window of The Grey Hill Café's 18-foot trailer, co-owner Graham Harrison watches as looks of surprise and delight spread across his customers' faces when they take their first bite into his sandwiches.
This is Harrison's favorite moment as a cook, because it evokes the joy he experienced as a child, watching his mother cook for his family. "She was a stay-at-home mom, and she would make us nice meals every day," he says.
The café's menu came together after a night of experimentation in Weezie's Kitchen, where he still works part time. Harrison came home to Lindsey Koertge, his girlfriend (and now co-owner of Grey Hill), with menu ideas written on the backs of guest-service checks. His cooking skills developed in a similar fashion, by putting together tasty dishes he had learned from his mother or through restaurant jobs.
"I'm not a studied cook or anything. Cooking is an accident for me," Harrison says. "It is really self-gratifying to be able to make something for somebody."
Originally, the couple planned to serve grilled-cheese sandwiches from a stand near Virginia Commonwealth University's student center. But after they encountered financial obstacles and red tape, Koertge and Harrison decided to fill the empty space left by Jazzbo's Rollin' Gumbo, a Cajun eatery that closed after the death of owner Jamie Dickerson. Opened in May, Grey Hill Café operates from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, out of the former Jazzbo's trailer in the parking lot at Once Upon a Vine on MacArthur Avenue.
"Everything you heard about how nice Jamie was is true, and his food [was] amazing," Koertge says. "But we try to do our own thing."
In keeping with the couple's original plan, customers are encouraged to build their own grilled-cheese sandwiches, but they can also choose from six sandwich options, all under $10, including an Asian pulled-pork sandwich, a hummus crunch sandwich and Harrison's favorite — the turkey arugula with Munster, tomato and mayo on marble rye.
Each week, Grey Hill features specials, including kebabs and Italian turkey burgers. Crab cakes are also a must for Harrison, whose mom's side of the family is from Baltimore.
Harrison grew up in the Rosedale neighborhood on Richmond's North Side and Koertge in Norfolk. They have been dating for three years. "We both worked at Kitchen 64, and that's where we met," Koertge says, adding, "He used to make fun of me." Koertge, 29, handles the financial side of the business and holds down additional restaurant jobs while the 26-year-old Harrison takes care of the café and home cooking.
The partners hope that the café will help pave the way to eventually opening their own restaurant. "We always talk about [how] some day down the road it would be fun to open our own brick-and-mortar bakery café," Koertge says. "That would be the best of both our worlds.