Station Grill serves up home-cooked meals
“Choo! Choo!” This sound, along with the whir and clank of the train and the subtle shuttering sensation caused by the passing boxcars, is the native soundtrack at the Station Grill restaurant in Grover Beach, housed in the “Grand Junction” building just steps from the railroad tracks and catty-corner from the train station.
Owner Chris Rivas says that he and his wife, Karen, and their many regular patrons have become accustomed to this. It has become part of the restaurant’s unique experience. “When the trains go by, you see them, you hear them and you feel them!” Mr. Rivas exclaims. His restaurant’s train engineer logo and décor speak to this natural theme, but the food, thankfully, is miles ahead of what you’d find in a train galley.
Mr. Rivas says that the Station Grill, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, is known for its home-cooked flavors and dishes. “Everything we’ve done since we first started the menu has been things that we would serve our family,” Mr. Rivas says, noting that his large extended family in the area was their focus group. In fact, they moved to the area from the San Fernando Valley in 1997 to be closer to family.
A 40-year veteran of the food and hospitality industry, Mr. Rivas had owned a Subway Sandwich shop near Cal State Northridge. A year after their move to the Central Coast, he sold the business and started looking for local opportunities to open a restaurant. Literally. He got in his car and started driving down Grand Avenue, looking for buildings available to lease.
“When I got down here to the end of Grand—there was actually nothing here, it was still sand and sage brush—the owner Brad Ford was pounding the stakes into the ground, starting to build the foundation.” At this sight, Rivas somehow saw exactly what he was looking for. He signed a lease to open a restaurant in the building a year before it was even built. “I threw my faith in [Ford] and he threw his faith in me, and together we have been successful for 14 years.”
Consistent, friendly, clean and reasonable
Clearly the restaurant had a solid foundation, but several ingredients went into the making of what has become a lasting, and locally cherished, eatery and meeting spot. Rivas points out four major factors: consistency—“I have three cooks that have been with me for 10 years”; friendliness—“Everyone is very well trained”; cleanliness—“We work very, very hard on keeping the restaurant clean and I hear almost every day from my customers how much they appreciate that” and reasonable prices—most dinners are under $10 while breakfast and lunch fall between $5 and $7.
Another part of the secret recipe lies in the Rivas’ partnership: Mr. Rivas enjoys customer service and handling the front of the house while Mrs. Rivas, who previously worked for IBM and Lockheed and has a computer science background, enjoys the cooking, recipe development, and managing the bookkeeping and back of the house. “As long as we don’t get too far away from what our strengths are, we complement each other very well,” says Mr. Rivas. “We’re a very good team together.”
A dish for every appetite
The most obvious key to their success, of course, is the food itself. For breakfast, the most popular dish is the Station Grill Breakfast: three eggs, cooked to-order, with a choice of bacon or sausage, and served with hash browns and toast. “We serve probably close to 100 of those on weekdays; close to 200 on the weekends,” Rivas says, noting that omelets and French toast are also popular. For lunch, guests love their wraps, salads, burgers, pastrami, and sandwiches. For dinner, The Station Grill offers classic family dishes like chicken alfredo, flat-iron steak, pork shanks, lasagna—all served with the trimmings: a side salad and bread.
Still, “Without a doubt, our most popular dinner is my wife’s meatloaf,” Rivas says emphatically. “It’s the family recipe. It’s served with garlic bread, mashed potatoes and gravy—the mashed potatoes come from potatoes; the gravy is made from scratch. So nothing we serve comes out of a box. It is all made-to-order when you order it.”
The home-cooking approach has certainly served them well in developing lasting customer loyalty. “At any given time, I could probably introduce you by name to half of the people in the restaurant,” Rivas says with pride, adding that he knows several patrons who eat there more than once a day. Beyond the regulars, the Station Grill, poised so perfectly close to the train station as well as the Pismo dunes, beaches and golf course, has also become a hot spot for tourists and a weekly and monthly meeting spot for several local groups and organizations.
And in this sense, the Station Grill has truly become the town’s depot, bringing friends and family from near and far together for a home-cooked meal.
The Station Grill is located at 170 W. Grand Avenue in Grover Beach at the corner of Grand and Highway 1. Open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m and on Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (805) 489-3030 or check out stationgrill.net for daily specials and more information.
— Jamie Relth