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Grain to open Trolley Square location

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Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, which started in Newark, is now preparing to open a Trolley Square location at the former Scratch MaGoo’s. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – The Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen brand is continuing to grow across Delaware and is now checking its most-desired location off its list: the city of Wilmington.

Owned and operated by the OMG Hospitality restaurant group founded by neighbors and business partners Jim O’Donoghue and Lee Mikles, Grain has quickly grown from its original Newark location to four locations stretching from Kennett Square, Pa., to Lewes. In the first half of 2022, it will add the former Scratch MaGoo’s location in Trolley Square and a new location at the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus.

Grain will be taking over the former BarRoja and Scratch MaGoo’s spot in Trolley Square starting this spring. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

“I’ve always called [Wilmington] our hole in the doughnut,” Mikles told Delaware Business Times on Monday morning as he was inspecting the new site. “It always pained me to run into somebody in north Wilmington who didn’t know Grain.”

Mikles, who co-founded the Wilmington-based Archer Group advertising agency before his turn as restaurateur, said that Wilmington has long been on their target list, but the right locations just never became available or didn’t pan out – one location at Branmar Plaza in north Wilmington fell through in 2016 in what would have been the second Grain, he noted.

The Grain partners heard about an opportunity in Trolley Square through Joe Latina, a real estate broker at Patterson Woods Commercial Properties/CORFAC International, just a few weeks ago. They started negotiating with the owner, Big Fish Restaurant Group led by Eric and Norman Sugrue, in December and were able to quickly pin down a lease.

Big Fish, which operates more than dozen concepts around Delaware, had previously operated BarRoja, a Southern California-inspired tacos and margaritas concept, at the space for about two years before closing in August.

Mikles credited Big Fish with working expeditiously to get a lease signed and for investing in renovations of the roughly 100-seat space after Scratch MaGoo’s closed in 2018.

“This really is as turnkey as you can get,” he added.

The spot, located at 1709 Delaware Ave., between Big Fish concept Trolley Square Oyster House and the Crow Bar, owned by Wilmington restaurateurs Bryan and Andrea Sikora, is hoped to open early this spring, with the transfer of the restaurant’s liquor license being the only significant hurdle, Mikles said.

“We’re trying to move as quickly as we can because we know how exciting Trolley is in the spring and summer,” he added.

Like many in the restaurant industry, Mikles said their restaurants have been impacted by a workforce shortage, and they’ve worked to keep service manageable for staff. He’s encouraged, however, that several Grain workers have already referred friends who are interested in working in Trolley Square, where many young adults reside.

Grain has also been contending with supply chain challenges like most businesses, finding shortages on potatoes one week, to-go containers the next, and specific liquor brands. The managers have to juggle what product can be acquired, and Mikles said their patrons have been accommodating to the changes.

“It is forcing us to look at our suppliers with an eye toward how they are able to deliver to us, so some of our product mix has been changing,” he noted.

The Wilmington opening will make for a busy spring for the growing restaurant group, as it also works to open Grain Exchange at the new FinTech Center on UD’s STAR Campus around April or May. That concept will be a slightly different spin on the traditional Grain location, with a menu geared more toward a lunch crowd looking for quicker meals in a university campus building, Mikles said.

Although the restaurant group will have hit six concepts, along with a Lewes coffee shop, by the end of 2022, Mikles said they would continue thinking and looking at future opportunities.

“We try to learn with each concept and with the Lewes [ferry terminal] location, we really learned how much we love the beaches and how well that fits with our brand. So that might be an area of interest,” he said, noting that they are also interested in successfully growing multiple brands, much like what Big Fish has done.

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