Grill 309 is offering students free lunches during crisis

Grill 309 owner James Laughorn and Manager Rachael Ollingslager.

 Though it's facing hard times itself, Grill 309 in downtown Culpeper is still giving back to the community.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the restaurant is offering either turkey and cheese, ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or Honey Nut Cheerios, along with a carton of milk and their choice of sliced apples or raspberry yogurt to students. (Call ahead at 540-764-4902.)

“Moms have been pulling up curbside here and telling us which one, and we bring it right up to them,” said Manager Rachael Ollenslager.

“We are doing curbside pickup, delivery, and I’m offering free school lunches to kids 17 and younger,” said Grill 309 owner James Laughorn. “It’s us partnered with a very generous contributor. He would like to remain anonymous.”

In the wake of mandated restrictions on gatherings imposed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, as well as the economic fallout as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, many other downtown restaurants decided to shutter the doors this week — either temporarily or maybe even permanently. 

Laughorn is hoping his Grill 309 doesn’t become another victim to the crisis. Helping out “kind of keeps the staff going as much as possible,” he said, adding: “we’re just trying to evolve and adapt to these unchartered waters.

“I’ve easily lost 75% of more of my sales,” Laughorn said. “The rub thing is, mortgages still have to be paid, rent still has to be paid — that’s the challenge. We’re trying to limp along as long as we can.

“I will be the last one standing here very soon. That’s the way it is for all of us right now. I try to stress to people, I’m not marketing, I’m not staying open because I’m insensitive to this pandemic. It’s literally just trying to survive right now. That’s all we can do,” he said. “It’s tough for everybody.”

Laughlin said, however, that the support from the community has been amazing during this crisis. “I have people who are not only coming in or getting takeout, or any of that, it’s just the amount of money people are tipping to my staff right now is incredible,” he said. “The really hard-hit right now are the places that have been open for only a few months or even a year. Those of us who are open two or more years, we have business lines of credit, we have things that we can draw upon that are going to help.

“For a lot of us, this is our lives’ work. Myself, I’m in excess of 20 years that it’s taken me to get where I am today and own my own business,” Laughlin said.

He said he’s hoping to keep his staff of about 10 employed as long as possible.

“If I can’t ramp up to-go business or my delivery business, I’m going to have to let more people go. My goal is that we can evolve to a primary delivery (model) — and it’s myself doing the deliveries,” Laughorn said. “If I can ramp that delivery business up, I’m snagging these people off unemployment as much as I can. I would like to get them back, because when this does pass — and it will pass — these are valuable employees to me. I need to retain them. I don’t want to lose anybody. But again, it’s unchartered waters for all us.”

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