‘Listen Up! Local’ is a special series from Rise Up Podcasts that shines a spotlight on local businesses and their owners who have reinvented their businesses to not only survive but thrive amid COVID-19.
In this episode Rise Up Strategies CEO Adam Smith speaks to Jason McLeland, Head Chef at Grunt – located in Ottawa’s trendy Mechanicsville neighbourhood.
Adam: Welcome to Listen Up! Local. A series of Rise Up Podcasts that shines a spotlight on local businesses and their owners who have reinvented their businesses to not only survive but thrive amid COVID-19. This episode features a very down to earth guy with a passion for great food who delivers some of the most mouth-watering, soul-inspiring flavours in a space with a vibe like your best friend’s kitchen. A kitchen that just happened to get voted one of Ottawa’s Top Ten best new restaurants in 2019. No mean feat considering it had only been open about half a year at that point. I have the pleasure of speaking with Jason McLelland, head chef and owner of a little place tucked away in Mechanicsville and his restaurant is Grunt. Thanks for coming all the way from Scotland to turn fine dining on its ear and into something that everyone can appreciate in the most unpretentious kind of way. Your food is incredible and I can personally attest to that. You know, we’ve talked before on this podcast about choices business owners face in a crisis situation such as this one – you know, to fight or flight. Jason, what’s the difference between reinventing your business vs. scaling down and trying to ride out this storm and why did you make the choice to flight
Jason: hmmm, yeah, I think, you have that choice and you can either dwell on what’s happening or adapt and kind of overcome and I chose to adapt to what’s happening and I chose to adapt and overcome. I mean, there’s a lot that’s riding on my business too but it’s all how you do that. It’s very easy to think differently, to think outside the box – something better and really neat to do.
Adam: Well, this is it, I mean we all have to adapt to this new reality and small business owners like yourself, or even me, for that matter, have to find new ways to operate don’t we?
Jason: Exactly. I mean. You set up owning a restaurant and you have your business plan and your business model and then today’s current kind of situation kind of throws it all out of whack and in a kind of random way, makes you more creative, makes you think again, you know. How can you better it? How can you take everything into consideration and then push forward from that? Kind of just embracing it.
Adam: Good for you! Aren’t we all?
So, has this crisis led to any changes in the way you think you will do business once this is over?
Jason: to be completely honest, everyone keeps saying, ‘when we all return to normal’… I don’t think normal was good enough or is good enough. I’d say this is a kind of rain check for us all as a collective people in the world. I mean, clearly, the world has taken a massive shakeup. At the end of the day,and it’s horrible what’s going on, with people dying, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we were progressing great as a human race anyway so…I think this will be a rain check for everyone you know.
Adam: This is it. Maybe returning to normal isn’t good enough.
Jason: Yeah, I don’t think normal is good enough. We were getting to a point in the industry, as humans, we weren’t compassionate enough, there was a lot of greed. Not a lot of good in the world. This pandemic has highlighted areas between support local and all this. People were doing it before but now people are very very conscious of it all now, you know.
Adam: Yeah, well that dovetails nicely into the next question because What I’m hearing from you Jason, loud and clear is that, you are someone who wants to seek a better world and I can attest to sharing that sentiment with you. In fact, the reason that I got to know Grunt, is because of the great work you’re doing in Ottawa in the community on multiple fronts, and I also know you are modest about this, but one community project in particular that I’d love to highlight benefits a charity close to my heart, which is Shepherds of Good Hope, is the work you are doing with a local graffiti artist and the creation of a beer, whereby some of the proceeds are going to support Shepherds of Good Hope. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that.
Jason: Yep! So, one of my buddies, he does a lot of artwork for me, his name is Taylor – he has the #TRP613 and he’s actually an elementary school teacher, he teaches art and mathematics to kids during the day and at night he’s a graffiti artist. He uses a lot of stickers, he doesn’t spray paint anything and everything is removable so, technically it’s not graffiti, it’s more on the art front. Graffiti is art. But you know what I’m saying, it can be removed so you aren’t defacing anything. I got to know an original lager, they only do one beer, so it reminds me a lot of beer from back home. A couple of great guys and, I kind of thought, in this situation, what’s better than to colab together, you know, strength in numbers and, yeah, do something for the greater good. Kind of put our heads together, my buddy TRP, designed this label, a sticker to stick on cans and we called it OG lager, a drunk lager, which is a perfect name. So 25% of all the sales from the beer go straight to the Shepherds of Good Hope which is really close to my heart. I am actually really good friends with Robin Duetta. He was kind of one of the first people to come and try my restaurant when I opened and we kind of hit it off and we did Feast of Fields, Taste for Home – anything to do with Shepherds of Good Hope, I always involve myself in. For sure.
Adam: So good to hear. And what I heard as well Jason is that you are delivering meals as well during the day, helping out vulnerable people.
Jason: to be honest, before this even started, I would always help out my neighbourhood. I chose to open my restaurant a little bit off the beaten track in Mechanicsville, kind of like an up and coming area but it still has a little bit of a personality, it still has a little bit of a rough around the edges, shall we say in the most beautiful way. So yeah, I’ve been doing that since I opened. If someone needed something I would do my best to give it to them. If someone cAME IN couldn’t afford something, I would feed them for free. Yeah I do that, because that’s just the way I want to live my life. I want to make an impact more than just being an acclaimed chef. I want to make an impact where it matters from the ground up. I feel like if you invest in bottom up instead of top down that you’ll get better results I think.
Adam: well, Ottawa is certainly better to have you here Jason. On top of the great community work you’re doing, you’re also making incredible food and we are all grateful for that so, thank you. Thanks so much for taking the time out of your extremely busy schedule to chat today. It’s been a pleasure to meet you Jason. Your food is fantastic.Your authenticity is extraordinary. The contributions you are making are second to none so for everyone listening, you can find Grunt and Jason tucked away into the residential neighbourhood just off Scott Street in Mechanicsville. Also, you can keep up with his ever-evolving menu on Instagram at Grunt Ottawa and thank you so much everyone for listening and thank you again Jason.
Jason: Thank you so much.
Adam: Take good care.