Couple brings 200-year-old Church Hill building back to life as restaurant

grisette building

Grisette will fill the 200-year-old storefront at 401 N. 27th St. (J. Elias O’Neal)

For its latest incarnation, a 200-year-old storefront is being revived as the newest entrant in the Church Hill food scene.

Grisette, a new restaurant from chef Donnie Glass and his wife Megan, soon will fill the long-vacant ground-floor space at 401 N. 27th St.

The restaurant adds to the centuries-long list of uses for the building, which historic records show was built between 1813 and 1815 by Charles Wills, captain of the local Camp Holly Militia during the War of 1812 in Virginia to house the Wills Store.

The two-story building at the corner of East Marshall and North 27th streets is believed to be the city’s oldest commercial building, according to records from Historic Richmond.

Over time, the building changed ownership and tenants – ranging from a radio parts store during the World War II era to a laundromat in more recent years.

The Glasses hope to open Grisette by late summer or early fall, with a concept that Donnie said will be his take on southern French-style cuisine, while incorporating a blend of popular foods caught and grown along the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachia.

“If Can-Can, Chicken Fiesta and Saison had a love child, it would be this,” Donnie said. “I don’t want people to call it just a French restaurant … it’s going to be more than that.”

Growing up in Northern Virginia, the Glasses have worked in the dining industry since college – eventually meeting while working at a Charlottesville restaurant.

A VMI and Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts grad, Donnie got his start working at Parkside Rotisserie & Bar in Providence, Rhode Island, where he traveled as a cook working in Maine and New Hampshire.

In 2014, he served as executive chef of Public Fish & Oyster restaurant in Charlottesville, before he and Megan left in 2016 to pursue a job in Martha’s Vineyard. Looking to do something on their own, they returned to Virginia this year to launch Grisette.

“Getting to this point has been the culmination of a lot of hard work,” Donnie said. “I’ve had the great privilege of working with and under some amazing chefs and operators, and to have the opportunity to pursue something like this has been a long time coming.”

megan - donnie glass

Megan and Donnie Glass. (J. Elias O’Neal)

Longtime friend and restaurateur Andy McClure of Charlottesville-based The Virginian Restaurant Co., which owns Citizen Burger Bar in Carytown, is an investor in the venture, but Donnie said Grisette will not be owned or operated by McClure’s group.

“Andy and I have known each other for a long time,” he said. “When I told him about what we wanted to do, he backed the idea.”

Grisette will be open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner, and on Saturday and Sunday for brunch, Donnie said. Megan said the restaurant also can be reserved for private parties and events.

While the menu remains under development, Donnie said many dishes would include seasonal fruits and vegetables grown on nearby farms in Virginia and North Carolina. Blue crabs and oysters caught in the Chesapeake Bay also will be featured.

Caleb Donovan, a bartender at Can-Can Brasserie in Carytown for 11 years, is overseeing Grisette’s beverage and cocktail menu, which will include mixed drinks, wine and beer.

The Glasses took inspiration for the Grisette space from Washington D.C.’s Rose’s Luxury restaurant, where they dined during their honeymoon.

“Everything is in the open,” Megan said of the Rose’s Luxury space. “It was such a great dining experience that we wanted to recreate something – as far as the space is concerned – here.”

Looking to maximize the available 1,200 square feet, Megan said Grisette will incorporate a bar with seating and a cooking station with a wood-fired rotisserie on one side of the restaurant – allowing patrons to interact with the chef, cooks and bartender. The remaining seating will be lined along a wall with windows fronting East Marshall Street.

“Having that interaction with staff is a huge part of our concept,” Megan said. “We think that it’s going to be a big draw for us.”

Grisette’s opening adds to a growing number of restaurants with an established following in Church Hill, including Dutch & Co., WPA Bakery and Proper Pie Co., which is a few blocks away on East Broad Street.

Work also is underway on Alewife, a restaurant at 3120 E. Marshall St. by Roosevelt and Southbound co-owner Lee Gregory that’s set to open in coming weeks.

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charles Frankenhoff
charles Frankenhoff

very cool, he seems like a nice guy