Controlled Chaos

Meadville's own Market House Grille

March 11, 2015


Since 2009, Meadville resident Cindy Thompson has operated the Market House Grill in downtown Meadville. As most of its regulars agree, there are few places like it in Meadville or anywhere nearby. Thompson’s staff of mostly women do their best to make the establishment a gathering place with good, home-made food and friendly faces. Photo by Andy Colwell

At 6:30 a.m. a neon “OPEN” sign flickers red and blue in the window against the morning sky. Jennifer McGowan, a server at the Market House Grille, writes the daily specials on two whiteboards and hangs one near a sign that reads “Help Wanted: Experienced Server!”

The Market House Grille quickly comes to life. McGowan peels a clementine while co-worker Deborah Spratt, a prep cook, snacks on a cookie. Debra Albright, another cook, sharpens a kitchen knife nearby while singing along to a cover of “I’m A Woman” playing quietly on a radio.

At 6:55 a.m., the first customer of the day, walks in and sits down at the bar. McGowan asks early bird Jim Bradley if he is having his usual fare. A couple of minutes later, McGowan answers the day’s first phone call.

McGowan has been working at the Grille for three years. She works mostly as a server but cooks occasionally. She enjoys her job and visits the Market House even on her days off.

“This started out as a part-time thing but I ended up liking it here,” she said. “Now I’m here all the time. They have the best breakfast here.”


Ron Oswald of Meadville sips soup at the Market House Grille. Photo by Julia Moss.
Julia Moss
Ron Oswald of Meadville sips soup at the Market House Grille. Photo by Julia Moss.

Bradley eats at the Grille about twice a week and comes to enjoy a dish known as the “Morning After,” composed of a foundation of eggs, potatoes and cheese.

“All of the cooks are good here. And they all know what I order,” he said. “As soon as I walk in the door, they have it on the grill.”

Just as Bradley had predicted, McGowan passes along his affirmation to Albright, who begins assembling the order on the grill behind the counter, bringing the first sizzling sounds of the day to life.

“We have a lot of regulars here,” Albright said. “At lunchtime, there is a whole family that comes in almost every single day. Everybody is family here and I know almost all of the orders when people walk in. Tomorrow it will be sausage, gravy, corn beef and hash.”

Albright has been working for the restaurant on and off for about ten years. She loves to dance, sing and cook—usually at the same time.

“I love this restaurant,” she said. 

“I love how open it is. Everyone can see me singing and dancing. I figure if I can make somebody laugh or smile, I’ve done a good thing. If “Love Potion Number Nine” comes on, I start singing, I get my coworkers to sing and we try to get people in here singing.”

— Debra Albright

“I’m a good cook,” she added, “and I take pride in what I do. This is a hard job, but I never make the customers wait.”

An oven beeps and Brian Malcolm, another cook, pulls out a tray of cinnamon rolls. Albright mixes a few eggs in a bowl and spreads them over various assortments of onions, bacon, beans and peppers. McGowan sets two pots of coffee to brew and greets another man by his first name.

By 7:30 a.m., the Grille is already at half capacity. Most of the customers are men sitting at the bar with a firsthand view of the staff cooking and organizing. Idle chatter contends with the sounds of eggs frying, coffee steaming and cooks calling out instructions. McGowan strides between tables, checking on her customers.

“When it gets really busy,” said McGowan, “and something needs to get done, whoever is there needs to do it. I’m a waitress, but I also run the register, stock food and occasionally cook. We all work together.”

By 8:15 a.m., the Grille is nearly empty again. Albright pulls one last meal off of the grill—two eggs easy over, three sausage links and bacon—and pulls a bagel out of a toaster oven. Customers are sparse three hours later when Cindy Thompson, the owner of the Market House Grille, walks in the door.

Thompson has been working in restaurants with her family since she was nine years old. She began managing the Market House Grille in April of 2009. Two years later she purchased the Grille and now acts as sole proprietor. She described how she gradually transformed the entire restaurant—picking out foods, designing menus and repainting the walls—to fit with her vision.

“You have to have good quality products. And we want people to be comfortable here,” Thompson said.

Thompson described the Grille as a small diner type of establishment, where all of the food is home-made. She enjoys the hospitality that her job requires, including cooking, meeting and greeting and getting to know new people.

By noon the Grille has nearly reached full capacity. Families, pairs of young adults and groups of friends fill the tables, across which condiment dispensers, sugar packets and the occasional cluster of bills and coins are scattered.

At one table, Pat and Rick Orr, two regulars at the Grille, finish a meal. They come to the establishment almost twice a week enjoying the food together and occasionally meeting another couple from out of town. Rick described the atmosphere as homely and comfortable.

“The food here is great. No matter what you order you’re pleased with it. The waitresses here work so well together,” Pat said.

The Orrs make occasional visits for breakfast, but especially enjoy the Grille’s specials on Wednesday (Italian food) and Friday (baked fish). Sometimes, Pat added, the restaurant gets so busy that available tables cannot be found.

As mid-afternoon rolled around and the lunch rush subsided, Thompson maintained her pace and passion for work.

“People like the controlled chaos here,” Thompson said, smiling.



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