Gracie’s Kitchen goes out with a bang

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Grace Thompson sits in her restaurant, Gracie’s Kitchen. The Voorheesville eatery will be closing on Sunday, Oct. 8, and has been packed in its final week as  fans say goodbye. 

VOORHEESVILLE — Gracie’s Kitchen is closing its doors on Sunday, a casualty of the increasingly untenable state of the food industry, which has been suffering labor shortages and cost increases since reopening after the pandemic. 

But the Voorheesville restaurant’s final days have turned into something of a celebration of the food and service it had offered the community since opening in 2018, with owner Grace Thompson telling The Enterprise this week that the restaurant has been packed with record-breaking numbers of customers. 

“I guess it’s people’s chance to come and say goodbye, and to enjoy some of the things that we’ve been able to do over the years,” Thompson said. 

Thompson opened the American-fare restaurant at the site of the old Voorheesville Diner with her husband, Eric, after a 27-year-career in the public sector, working in child welfare. The couple had been world-champion barbecuers and catered their food for a little while before taking everyone’s advice and pursuing a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Thompson said.  

In the five years they were open, Thompson said she made deep connections with customers that will “be very long-lasting, I’m certain. And that’s unique and very, very special.”

One such customer is 93-year-old Dorothy Kohler, who would eat lunch at Gracie’s several times a week, and celebrated her 93rd birthday there. 

“That was so much fun,” Thompson said of the party. “She even said it was the best birthday party she ever had, which is pretty amazing for 93 years. She’s rather sad that we won’t be here, but I promised I would find a way to take her out to lunch, just the two of us, as we move forward, and I’ll make sure she has her socialization and she’s entertained.” 

Some long-time customers, Thompson said, have even “burst into tears.”

She expressed enormous gratitude for the support she’s received from the community over the years. 

“It’s so gratifying to hear what my little restaurant has meant to people,” Thompson said. “I will carry that with me forever.”

It makes the decision to close all the more difficult, but Thompson explained that, even though it “breaks [her] heart,” she can’t sustain the demands of running a local restaurant, particularly amid industry-wide challenges. 

“It has honestly taken a bit of a toll on my health because I’m here a minimum of 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “Yesterday it was 16 hours. One person just can’t keep that up.”

The labor shortage has made help hard to come by, she said. And, when she finds someone who will accept the job, “They just want to do the parts they want to do. They don’t want to do the parts that we call work.” The resulting shortage meant the restaurant’s hours had to be cut back drastically.

Part of the challenge is the ongoing desire of job-seekers to work remotely, which is obviously not an option in the service industry, Thompson said, cutting out swaths of applicants who would otherwise be highly capable.

Solutions like automated systems for ordering and paying, which you might see at a larger chain, are counter to the service- and community-oriented atmosphere that a business like Gracie’s Kitchen strives for, she said. 

“The whole concept of service is really dying out, except, I think, in the higher-end restaurants,” she said. 

And, Thompson thinks that the years of pandemic-era isolation have sapped high schoolers — often a go-to work source for local entrepreneurs — of their willingness or ability to work. 

“When I started, I had an amazing crew of high school kids who had their first jobs, were hard-working … were intelligent, and had a strong work ethic,” she said. 

Now, “because they have spent their first few years of high school isolated in the pandemic, they don’t want to be out in public …,” she said. “I think that some parents feel that their children really suffered through isolation, and so they’re not going to make them work on top of school and sports and all these other good things that kids get to do.” 

With Gracie’s in the rear-view, Thompson said she would like to find employment that will “be less than 80 hours a week,” ideally back in child welfare.

“It’s meaningful work for me, and so gratifying to be able to help children and families live healthier lives,” she said. 

There won’t be any special events or offerings in the last few days of the restaurant, Thompson said, and she and her husband have been too busy to figure out what they might do privately. 

“Maybe we’ll just open a bottle of champagne with the staff when we close,” she said.

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