Longtime customers hope The Little Grill Collective won’t close permanently

Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 6:22 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - One of Harrisonburg’s most beloved restaurants, The Little Grill Collective is temporarily closing down. With the Collective’s future uncertain many in Harrisonburg are hoping this isn’t the end.

The restaurant has been a staple in the community for decades and some loyal customers are hopeful that they can help it remain open.

“It’s more than just a restaurant. With the outreach that they did with Our Community Place and just the connection, it was just a place where you always felt really welcome. It was different and quirky and you felt welcome no matter who you are,” said Jennifer Edwards, a longtime customer.

Edwards first began going to the Little Grill when she was a student at James Madison University in 2003. She eventually started a family in Harrisonburg and kept coming back through the years.

“When my kids were younger we went there a lot. I loved that there was music there. It just was this special little place where you could get purple monkey pancakes and listen to music,” she said.

Like Edwards, many of the Collective’s customers have been going there for years.

“I’ve only lived in the Harrisonburg area ten years but my sister who has lived here for 40 plus years, the first place she took me to eat was the Little Grill because it’s a landmark. It’s a Harrisonburg landmark and I’ve loved it ever since,” said Barbara Camph, a regular customer at The Little Grill.

Camph said she quickly fell in love with the diner and prior to its closing it had been a part of her regular routine.

“It’s a regular on my stops. I plan my week around ‘well what day am I gonna have breakfast at the Little Grill’ and I just like to pop in there with my book and have breakfast. It’s just so comfy and easy,” she said.

One thing that community members have always loved about The Little Grill is its atmosphere and workers.

“Everyone there is super friendly, they’re just loving and caring people and their food is delicious. It’s a super tiny little restaurant so it’s very charming and it makes you feel like you’re at home except that you don’t have to cook,” said Gleamer Sullivan, who has often visited the Collective since moving to Harrisonburg in 2000.

Robert Driver is a Harrisonburg native who co-owned the restaurant for a few years in the late 1980s. He said the first restaurant at the location opened up around the beginning of World War II. The Little Grill went through several iterations and ownership changes over the decades before becoming a Collective in 2003.

Driver said that while the restaurant has changed over the decades it has always been important to the city.

“A peaceable kingdom is a good way to describe that restaurant. People left a lot of animosities at the door and it really was a magical place,” said Driver. “You know how many people met their wives there? One of my cooks even proposed to his future wife on the stage at the Little Grill. People have all kinds of memories of the place.”

Many in the community were saddened to learn about the collective’s temporary closing and uncertain future.

“There would be profound sadness because if The Little Grill is to stop operating as that entity then that’s truly the end of an era in Harrisonburg,” said Driver.

Regular customers hope that the city will not end up losing another one of its local hotspots.

“If it does close it would be really really sad. It’s like another lovely restaurant gone while all these chains with unfriendly staff and gross food pop up everywhere and The Little Grill is just this shining gem,” said Sullivan.

As the Collective’s worker-owners explore ways to evolve the grill and try to keep it open, people in the community are looking to help in any way that they can.

“I think this community is just devastated by the thought of them closing forever, so we’re hoping that they will reach out for help,” said Camph. “The community can do things like GoFundme or fundraising for them to give them a new start. I think we have to fight for them. I’m prepared to lend some energy and I know a lot of other people are too.”

“I see that there are so many folks from the community stepping up and saying ‘Hey we want to help, we want to keep this going, please don’t leave,’ so I’m definitely one of those folks that would be willing to help them find the resources that they need to keep on trucking,” said Sullivan.