I don’t just enjoy eating at Broken Rocks. More than a restaurant to me, I use Broken Rocks as an extension of my home. I meet girlfriends there for dinner. My book club meets there once a month. It is a favorite morning spot for me and my boys to split a few delicious, homemade cinnamon rolls. It is our family’s annual spot to celebrate Mother’s Day. It is the one place I can take my kids where every single thing on the kid’s menu is something both delicious and good for them to eat. When I’m feeling down and need a good meal that I didn’t cook, it’s my go-to place for carry out. This list goes on and on.
So it’s no surprise that Broken Rocks was one of the first places I thought of when I cooked up the idea for the Places We Love series.
On a sunny Monday morning, after the breakfast rush had quieted down, but before the lunchtime crowd showed up, I sat down with Broken Rocks owner and “head of kitchen,” Glen Grumbling.
Over cups of coffee, in the Grumbling’s latest restaurant venture – Rox, a Gastropub right next door to Broken Rocks – I got to ask Glen about a shared passion: food.
Grumbling, whose dad did most of the cooking growing up, described his passion for food and cooking as an on going learning experience.
Do you ever stop learning to eat new things? -Glen Grumbling
“It’s funny. I didn’t eat a variety when I was young. As I grew up I learned to eat more.”
After college, Grumbling, who majored in history and philosophy, knew that he didn’t want to become a lawyer or a politician. He always had an interest in the restaurant business, so he went to Figlio, a spot in Columbus, Ohio that specialized in wood fired pizzas, and got a job as a dishwasher.
It was at Figlio that Grumbling discovered the difference that high quality ingredients can make in a dish. Things like really great Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese, which he incorporates into his dishes at Broken Rocks. During his 10 years at Figlio, Grumbling worked almost every position and spent a great deal of time in the kitchen.
But Grumbling fell in love with more than just good food during his tenure at Figlio. It’s also where he met his wife, Lisa, who was a server and worked as front of the house management.
The Grumblings were married in Broken Rocks, Michigan, where Lisa’s family has owned property for generations.
Eventually, Grumbling left Figlio to begin working at a bakery in Columbus, where he took wild grapes that he had gathered from Broken Rocks, Michigan, and made a sour dough starter. Grumbling supplied Figlio with this bread and soon, the staff – many of whom were in attendance at the Grumbling’s wedding – dubbed it the “Broken Rocks Bread.”
When Glen and Lisa decided to strike out on their own, they settled in Loudonville, Ohio, a village north of Columbus known for their state park and outdoor activities.
At this point in the conversation, Lisa, who had been busy training new staff, sat down with us.
“My mother was nervous for us to be doing this and now, I look back and realize she was right to be,” Glen recalled.”Our first location had been a former restaurant, but it was hideous and small. It had maybe 40 seats max.”
Lisa nodded and smiled.
“We didn’t have a lot of money and did it on a shoestring budget,” Lisa said. “We bought used equipment.”
The couple opened their doors with two soups and two salads on the menu…and an eight week old baby in their arms.
We wagered everything when we opened up in Loudonville. – Glen Grumbling
“We knew the break-even point,” said Lisa, “and most days we just hit that. We had to put our first Cisco order on a credit card and it took two months to pay off. People would come in and comment on how Glen was cooking (the pizzas) with real wood.”
“It’s because we couldn’t afford charcoal,” the couple says in unison and laughs.
“Most days it was just me and Lisa and the baby,” Glen recalls. “We would be open until 5 PM, but we would have to send the staff away at 2. I was the only cook for a long time. I remember vacuuming at 11 PM, wearing the baby in a back pack carrier.”
Baby Grumbling got so used to the daily restaurant noises that, at home, Lisa would have to turn on a vacuums to get her to fall to sleep.
When she wasn’t at the restaurant, Lisa went around to five area farmers’ markets to build the business.
So why do they do it? What keeps the Grumblings in the restaurant business, year after year?
“We’re crazy!” Lisa says with a laugh.
“These days, you have to think hard about it,” said Glen. “People think ‘I’m going to cook some food and serve some people,’ but they don’t realize how much work it takes.”
For the Grumblings, it’s the people that bring them back, day after day, year after year. “Our customers, our employees,” says Glen. For Glen, who still enjoys cooking for friends and family when he is away from the restaurant, it’s the hospitality piece that makes it all worth it.
There aren’t too many things you can do for people that are more intimate than cooking. -Glen Grumbling
After seven years in Loudonville, the couple noticed that a large portion of their sales were coming from the Millersburg, Wooster, and Mansfield area.
Again, the couple wagered everything to move their business north to Wooster.
Today, the couple owns both Broken Rocks in it’s original Wooster location on Liberty Street, and Rox, a gastropub next door that specializes in wood fired pizzas, a nod to where it all started.
My life often seems a little surreal. I couldn’t have envisioned life as it is now. -Glen Grumbling
One thing you’ll notice right away when you talk to Glen and Lisa is that they don’t just make delicious food, and they don’t just love to eat good tasting food, they also love to talk about food.
They are my kind of people.
Glen loves to eat whatever is fresh and in season. For him, there is nothing better than a ripe tomato fresh off the vine, or an ear of corn when it is in season.
The Grumblings have been incorporating locally raised and grown ingredients into their dishes since they first opened, or as Glen puts it, “We’ve been doing it before it was cool.”
Glen likes to form relationships with his producers, like the one he has cultivated with the owner of Homestead Springs, his supplier of locally raised trout and pork. “The farmer raises the pork and brings it to me – that’s farm to table.”
I told Glen that my husband had ordered the trout special for Mother’s Day, and soon, our conversation was all about what we love to eat, best meals we’ve had, and what makes for a good dining experience. As we talked, Glen would occasionally walk back to the kitchen and pick up a dish. Eventually, our table was filled with food. Delicious, wonderful, Broken Rocks style food.
The Broken Rocks house sour dough bread, made from those grapes Glen collected in Michigan 25 years ago, and their Greek salad – my absolute favorite salad. Perfect as a side salad, or when I want something a little heavier, I just have them top it off with seared tuna. It’s perfection on a plate.
These crab cakes you guys….
Delicious potstickers. Fresh, light, and oh-so-flavorful.
The pizza. The pizza! You can’t ever go wrong with a Broken Rocks pizza. The fresh, in-season asparagus really made this one sing.
Belgium Chocolate Custard. In a word – decadent. Sure to delight all you chocolate lovers out there.
I love food. I mean, I just love it. Is there anything better, really, than good food, savored with good friends? Is there anything better than sitting for hours with people who fill your heart with joy, while you fill your belly with food that makes you sit back, close your eyes, and smile while you just feel happy to be alive?
After talking with Glen and Lisa, it suddenly made sense why we love their restaurant so much. They take a lot of pride in providing their customers with great food and a pleasant dining experience. They provide the same level of hospitality that they would to any guest in their own home. They’ve cultivated an environment that allows me to bring my friends and family in and interact in the space as I would in my own home.
Twice now, the Grumblings have put everything on the line to pursue their passions and their dreams. It’s a story that is not only inspiring, it’s delicious. In every, single, way.