Eric Christenson spent a lot of time the past few years at The Daily Grind, the William & Mary coffeehouse across from Sadler Center, talking to owner Scott Owen and assessing ideas he might implement at Lokal Café, his primarily plant-based business on Prince George Street.
He no longer is a visitor to The Daily Grind. As of Jan. 1, he runs it.
Owen retired after 18 years and Christenson jumped at the opportunity to take over. Officially, The Daily Grind reopened in conjunction with the start of the spring semester on January 16. Before then, Christenson prepared a few new touches to the coffeehouse, though the biggest change won’t be found on the menu board.
“In my prior life, I did project management. One of them was ‘change management,’” he said. “How do you engage the community to better understand what customer needs are? We’ve heard that students want to have this place open until 11 p.m. That’s kind of an expensive thing. But if we can figure out a way by working with students ... What does that mean? Does that mean just a study space? Does that mean you want full service? Coffee? Grab and go?
“Maybe we can try something creative. Maybe we have a student here who is doing their homework and is here to make sure everything runs OK. Maybe people come grab what they want, we have plenty of grab-and-go capacity here. Maybe we have some healthy snacks, maybe a microwave available to heat up sandwiches. We’ll have to see, but before I go too far into that, we’ll talk to students, and I don’t know what that will look like.”
What Christenson is certain of is that there will be minimal changes to the Grind’s menu. He will import some vegan items from Lokal, where everything is made by hand, including the mustard, which is sugar-free. His bread is sourdough and thus low-gluten and he offers an array of gluten-free items. Meticulous about the ingredients he uses, Christenson even travels to another state to purchase his flour. He also may deal with a few different vendors than previously employed.
“Fundamentally, however, things are not going to change,” he said.
Christenson came to food service in an unconventional manner. He worked in a number of health care industries in the United States and abroad, including in Switzerland. Later, he attended school in Italy, where he learned slow-cooking, baking and gelato-making from a host of respected chefs. After that, he worked at a restaurant near Parma that he joked was the antitheses of slow, healthy eating.
When he and his wife moved to Virginia to be near their parents, Christenson took over BerryBody yogurt shop before transforming it into Lokal around three years ago.
“The idea was we would do this healthy food,” he said. “We’ve got yoga downstairs, space for meetings, and we have a lot of community groups meet here. We’ve also become popular with student groups and professors. If you’re on that (Richmond Road) side of campus, it’s a healthy place to go.”
One of the components at Lokal is education and distributing information about what goes into the food people eat. Christenson plans to bring those types of classes to The Daily Grind. More students than ever are eating healthy, he said, and he wants to promote that philosophy as much as possible.
“Food is so critical in how people take care of themselves,” he said. “In general, the amount of cancer in the United States is growing. The amount of diabetes and the amounts of sugar that people are eating, too. I’ve always known that if you eat healthily you can help to change that pattern in your own life.”