The Markens Founders of Grilla Bites
Meet The Owners
My wife and I started the Grilla Bites restaurant concept in 2000 after having been in the organic food industry for 15 years. I was president of a national organic food company that sold organic pasta sauce, salsa, and other items. As larger organic food companies began to make similar products to ours and place them in stores with an already established distribution system, we found it harder and harder to sell our products. We sold the company and moved to our farm where we operated a Bed and Breakfast and planted 10 acres of asparagus, organic of course. It was a lot of hard work, but for some of us it's a wonderful life having a job that lets us work the land.
Eventually, we leased the farm and moved back to Chico to be closer to our grandchildren. We missed the farm but enjoyed being able to ride our bikes to Chico Natural Foods, go to Shuberts for ice cream and the Saturday Farmers market, and see all our old friends. I, like many others, went to Chico State and never left, (except to run the organic company for 12 years).
I was substitute teaching for the Chico School District and doing repairs on our house when I heard that a downtown restaurant was going out of business. We had often talked about opening a restaurant that supported a community based philosophy by emphasizing healthful food and highlighting hard working organic farmers.
After many sleepless nights and encouragement from my wife I went for it. I was familiar with the restaurant business because from 1975 to 1985, I had owned La Salles Restaurant in downtown Chico. I created a lovely, community based establishment with outdoor eating areas, lots of plants, summer theater on the patio, art shows, and live music: rock & roll, jazz, and classical.
LaSalles offered a grilled sandwich so tasty that I thought, "Why not a restaurant based on the grilled sandwich", organic of course. We created numerous, tasty grilled sandwiches and with these, we opened Grilla Bites. Somewhere along the line I came up with the name Grilla's for the sandwiches and then put bites to it...so Grilla Bites was born.
This did not just happen like on TV: many hours were dedicated to working on the menu and getting the restaurant ready; creating a business plan, and locating used equipment and restaurant fixtures. The salad bar was a last thought, and of course, is now one of the drawing points of the restaurant.
That's the story in short. We are currently opening more restaurants run by folks who support our mission and understand the value of a healthy diet and lifestyle. We have read extensively, including John Robbins books which explain very clearly why our diets must change. One of our objectives is to purchase as many of our product from small scale manufacturers and local farmers thus supporting our local economy and community.
Thank you for reading our story; my wife and I hope, that as a supporter of our dedication and vision, you will enjoy serving food that, in a very positive way, supports the soul and body of our customers, the community, and the earth.
In, Another Turn of the Crank, Wendell Berry outlines points needed to for a community to flourish and last. These points are a critical part of how Grilla Bites operates. I have listed them below for you to review and I would encourage you to read some of Berry’s work:
- Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
- Always include local nature - the land, the water, the air, the native creatures - within the membership of the community.
- Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
- Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others).
- Understand the unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of "labor saving" if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.
- Develop property scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of the national or global economy.
- Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.
- Strive to produce as much of the community's own energy as possible.
- Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.
- Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community for as long as possible before it is paid out.
- Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.
- See that the old and the young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old, and not always in school. There must be no institutionalized "child care" and "homes for the aged." The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.
- Account for costs now conventionally hidden or "externalized." Whenever possible, these costs must be debited against monetary income.
- Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, system of barter, and the like.
- Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time the cost of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.
- A rural community should always be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
- A sustainable rural economy will be dependent on urban consumers loyal to local products; therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.