Originally from Scotland, Jason McLelland opened Grunt in 2019, and the first thing people talked about was the unique location in Mechanicsville, not an area well-known for fine-dining. But McLelland had done his homework (aided by his wife, an Ottawa native) and the location was absolutely intentional.
“I saw this building up for lease, and I wanted to find a place that was off the beaten track,” says the chef, who has worked in high-end restaurants in Paris, Australia, and Thailand. At Grunt, he offers high standards at a lower price point. At Grunt, all items are about $15.
Like everyone else, the pandemic forced a big change in his life. But in the days that followed he kept his Mechanicsville neighbours in mind, and was soon bringing groceries to low-income people near his restaurant and, eventually, further afield. That’s because, once CTV heard about his efforts, he appeared on national news coverage. “It got kind of crazy from there,” says McLelland.
After the national news clip, the chef woke up to an inbox full of email transfers. A woman in Laval called first, explaining she wanted to donate $500 to his project; another supporter from Calgary sent him $250. The funds helped him buy food and essential items, and deliver them to people in need around the city.
While the restaurant is closed, he’s offering a take-away menu focused on the same nourishing, comforting food Grunt is known for; porchetta sandwiches, risotto, and cheesecake are among the offerings this week.
He says he’s happy for the community support but misses restaurant life — and he curses at the waste involved with containers and the “sweat” that happens with prepared food once it’s packaged up.
“I gotta do what I gotta do to stay afloat, but it’s not ideal,” he says. “That’s why I only deliver within ten minutes of the restaurant.”