Seated at a large, round, wooden table at Grata – which accentuates the establishment’s homey, relaxed character – owner Harry Watson explains that rather than being a restaurant that serves liquor, he prefers Grata to be thought of as a bar that serves food.
The distinction is intended to emphasize Grata’s atmosphere – more laid back, intimate, neighborly, hospitable.
Located in the Clocktower Shopping Center, Grata opened on Valentine’s Day 2012 as a bar with some nibbles. Watson said that his decision to expand the bar’s kitchen and grow Grata’s dining services was based on the current community trend of more families wanting to go out together for dinners.
Andrew Johnson, Grata’s manager, adds that customers would come in for Happy Hour, then leave to go someplace else to eat.
Making the shift to expanded dining options at the end of last year, Grata is focused on serving its neighborhood and surrounding businesses, appealing to customers ranging from ages 20 to 60 and everything in between.
“We have really worked at creating an atmosphere where people like to come,” said Johnson.
Another part of the dining expansion was Watson’s acknowledgement of Johnson’s abilities. “I felt I could turn him (Johnson) loose and let go,” Watson said. “I believe in people.”
Johnson’s restaurant background includes management positions at several fast-food establishments; being on staff at Embassy Suites when it opened, as well as traveling for Embassy Suites nationally; and managing a kitchen at a Lincoln restaurant.
Where Grata has previously offered a small handful of appetizers, with the kitchen and menu expansion it now provides full menus and has expanded its staff.
The business has also expanded its hours of operation – now open at 11 a.m. daily to provide lunch service.
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The Grata menu features 15 Favorites/Appetizers ranging from $4-7.50 and includes such options as Edamame, potato skins, spicy corn nuggets, pretzel bites, white jalapeno beer cheese & chips, beer battered shrimp & chips and homemade hummus platter.
Salad choices are house, chef, spinach, Cajun shrimp, crispy chicken and artichoke chicken ($5-7), with two soup choices – chili ($5) or soup du jour ($4).
Chicken wings are $5.50 for a half dozen and can come sauced or dry rubbed. Six choices are offered for the sauced, with six different choices for the dry rubbed.
All of the wraps cost $6 and include turkey ranch; beef, bacon & blues; club and veggie. Burger variations are the House Signature, Bacon and Cheese Over Easy, Swiss Mushroom, Peanut Butter, Black & Bleu and Jalapeno Cream Cheese ($6.50 for each).
Each of Grata’s seven sandwiches cost $7 and include the Grata Club, Tuna Salad, Turkey Avocado, Buffalo Chicken (crispy or grilled), Blackened Chicken, Crispy Chicken and French Dip.
According to Johnson, Grata’s specialty pizzas – which he says he is willing to pit against anyone in town – are the bar’s customer favorites and come in 10-inch thin crust ($10) or 14-inch rising crust ($16). Choices include Combo, Taco, BBQ Chicken, Vegetarian, Hawaiian, Thai, Bruschetta, C-B-R-T (chicken, bacon, ranch, tomato), Jalapeno Popper, Cajun Shrimp Alfredo, Truffle Chicken and Tuscan, with the most-often ordered being the Buffalo Chicken (zesty mild buffalo and ranch sauce topped with buffalo chicken, pepperoncini and mozzarella) and the Meat Lovers (a mix of beef, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, sausage and bacon).
Behind the bar, Johnson said, are 40 craft and domestic bottled beer choices and 14 taps, seven of which are rotating craft beers.
For Watson and Johnson, making Grata a successful bar that serves food depends on their ability to make customers feel comfortable.
They want their customers to come back again and again because of the positives – atmosphere, food quality and value, service and friendliness.
After all, grata is Latin for “welcome.”