EXETER – Jerry Davies and Jim Yankovich were assembling shelving Thursday in the Grico's Restaurant basement while Bill Kravits looked on. The three men aren't contractors or handymen; they are chefs who can't wait for the fire-ravaged landmark restaurant on Wyoming Avenue to reopen.
The chefs and restaurant manager Shauna Strellish said they have participated in this passionate journey for only one reason – Pat Greenfield, their boss and the business owner since 1987.
Greenfield flinched a bit when asked to recall the early morning of Aug. 28, 2011 when an electrical malfunction in the basement led to a fire that ripped through Grico's and left the brick structure gutted.
Since the fire, Greenfield and her Grico's heroes have been toiling to get the place reopened while continuing Greenfield's catering business that has operated out of three separate sites.
She's the best boss in the world, Yankovich said. He's worked for Greenfield for 25 years.
We can't wait to be back home, Davies said.
Home for the three chefs will be a new state-of-the-art, stainless-steel kitchen with a hood system that Greenfield said will suck you right out of here if you stand too close.
Greenfield, 65, was getting ready to retire when the fire hit and turned her life upside down. At the constant urging of her customers, and with her heroes attached to her hip, Greenfield made a tough decision: to reopen Grico's and put her retirement plans on hold.
Europe will have to wait.
It's great to see this journey we've been on come full circle, Strellish, 26, said. Grico's is a part of this community. It's a landmark.
Strellish, a Wilkes University graduate who had planned to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, has worked at Grico's for seven years – rising from a bus girl to waitress to manager. She took the job to pay for school, and now it's her career, she said.
I've always been loyal to Pat, she said. When the fire hit, I felt that I couldn't leave her.
Strellish said she has learned much from Greenfield. I just want to get back to those busy Friday and Saturday nights, said Strellish. The food is so good, I come here for dinner on my night off.
Greenfield said she is waiting for approvals before she can set a reopening date, though she hopes to be serving dinners again by the end of the month.
The painting is almost done – pumpkin in the bar area and green in the new 50-seat dining room.
The curtains on the privacy booths have to be hung and the wood on the bar will get at least three coats of glaze over the weekend. Grico's will employ about 20 people full- and part-time, Strellish said.
Greenfield leaned back on a bench and sipped a cup of coffee as she reflected on the last 16 months. She never once thought about relocating the restaurant, she said. It wouldn't be Grico's, she said. The privacy booths and the bar – those are what we are known for – and the food.
Grico's opened in 1935 and has been a part of the Wyoming Valley fabric ever since. Greenfield said her days start at 5 a.m. and she doesn't get to bed until after midnight. I love it, she said. But I do look forward to retiring because I'm getting old. But this place has meant so much to so many for so long that I felt I had to reopen.
Greenfield said customers have stopped by daily since the fire to encourage her.
There were times I would ask myself, ‘What the hell am I doing?' But people want to walk though that door where everybody knows their name and what they want for dinner, she said.
The menu remains much the same. Greenfield said she wouldn't have it any other way, because certain customers come there for certain dishes.
Greenfield grew up in Shavertown and went to Central Catholic High School and Wilkes College (now Wilkes University). Before opening Grico's, her restaurant experience was at Percy Brown's in downtown Wilkes-Barre, where she worked to earn money while in college. After college, she worked at an advertising agency in Virginia, a hospital, a legal office and at Jewelcor.
She never has time to see her friends and she doesn't watch TV or go to movies, she said. Her life – at least for the next two years or so – will be the restaurant and the people.
And, of course, her heroes.
It's about them, not me, she said. I hope somebody will come along to take it over when I'm ready to retire. I hope that they will love this place and this business like I do. And look around – they will get a brand-new restaurant.
Greenfield has a daughter and two grandchildren. She looks forward to spending time with them. And don't forget the travel plans.
But for now, she will be traveling from the restaurant to her second-flood residence and from table to table and kitchen to bar. Like I said, I love it, she said.
When Grico's opens, the hours will be:
Monday through Thursday
5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday
5 p.m. to 1 1 p.m.