New downtown London restaurant aims to serve up industry fairness

An upscale downtown eatery is poised to adopt a unique staffing model that will blur the lines between front and back of house, while nurturing a passion and increased knowledge of the food.

Grace is set to open on Dundas in the coming weeks as flex street construction continues

Angie Murphy, executive chef, and Pete Annson, sommelier, take a break from setting up their restaurant Grace at the corner of Dundas and Clarence streets in London, Ont. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

An upscale downtown eatery is poised to adopt a unique staffing model that will blur the lines between front and back of house when it opens for business in the coming weeks. The owners hope their model will nurture a passion and increase knowledge of the food.

In the thick of all the dirt, dust, exposed piping and excavators at the corner of Dundas and Clarence Street is Grace Restaurant, a new London eatery that promises to be anything but your average fine dining experience.

Named after executive chef Angie Murphy's grandmother, Grace Murphy, the menu will feature seasonal and local food, with a focus on community, social responsibility and industry fairness.

When it comes to fairness, the team at Grace is adopting a staffing model that will see everyone on a level field.

"We want to incorporate some front of house duties and some back of house duties into everyone's week and hopefully move towards a cross-curricular team," said Murphy. "We wanted to create a very fair and equitable work environment in restaurants because that's not always the case."

The finishing touches are being put on the inside of Grace Restaurant. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

Murphy says by acknowledging the whole team, rather than a focus on the front of house which is what the guests typically see, it will provide a well-rounded experience for the diner.

"Cooks often have the most knowledge and a little bit more passion for where the product is coming from and we wanted to make sure that extended throughout our whole team," she said.

Between Murphy and co-owner and sommelier Pete Annson, the two have a combined experience of about 40 years in the restaurant industry.

"I just want to work somewhere that's fair," said Annson. "Where everybody that comes in loves to come into work and if there's a natural division between two important groups in the restaurant, then that's impossible to do."

When it comes to gratuities, that'll be shared among the staff, so everyone will benefit from their collective contributions. So far, there are 16 people who will be working at the restaurant.

Grace is the first restaurant Murphy and Annson have opened. And it's been a community effort by employing local designers for the layout, Murphy's own parents crafted the sleek plush booths and tables, and a local craftsman formed the restaurant's 18-foot long bar top.

The bar at Grace features a locally crafted 18-foot concrete bar top. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

While the work on the restaurant is close to completion, construction along Dundas Street is set to last until the end of November. But Annson says they're optimistic the future will be worth it.

"We think that we're getting into Dundas Street at an excellent time," he said. "Six months from now, seven months from now, downtown London is finally going to pass that tipping point and be a place that can thrive."

Murphy is also optimistic, adding all of the foot traffic along the street goes right by their door and there's accessible parking still available.

Grace is set for a soft launch with family and friends some time next week, with their grand opening planned for May 24.