The meat grinder is not as shiny as the stainless steel tables and new appliances. Its exterior has been dulled by decades of use in the Grant Street Grocery.
Nobody’s quite sure at what point in the grocery’s 99-year history the grinder became a part of the neighborhood establishment. Despite its age, the machine has held up through all those years and owners.
“You could throw a Volkswagen Beetle in there and grind it right up,” Matt Sissman, the grocery’s chef, said as he led a tour through his kitchen.
It was built to last, the chef said. Like the store it sits in.
After its owners spent more than a year ripping up ground, constructing new walls and waiting patiently, Grant Street Grocery and Market is back. The grocery had a soft opening for friends and the neighbors of its central Casper location last weekend before opening to the public Tuesday morning.
The kitchen, the menu and the staff are new, but those familiar with the store will recognize pieces of its history: an antique butcher’s block by the front door, an old wooden clock above the refrigerators, an aging white cooler along one wall.
The grocery, founded in 1918 and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, is a remnant of Casper’s past and staple of its present. According to the Casper Historic Preservation Commission, Grant Street Grocery was one of about 60 neighborhood grocers in the 1920s.
Now, it is the only one left. And it is much loved.
Customers hugged Lindsey Grant, one of the store’s owners, as they walked into the store Wednesday afternoon. They thanked her for what she and the other owners had created.
Grant and the four other owners, Terry and Del Johnson and Doug and Susan Holmes, started meeting more than a year ago, after the previous owners closed the grocery.
They could not bear to see the store go dark and the windows become shuttered. They couldn’t fathom what such a loss would mean.
So they did something about it — they bought the grocery.
They maintained as much of the original structure and equipment as possible. During construction, the owners found a battered antique wooden sign with the store’s name that hadn’t been seen for decades. After a new coat of paint, the owners hung it above the cooler.
“The store has a role of its own in the community,” Grant said. “This is about maintaining that.”
Grant Street Grocery’s new chef remembers summer days when he swam at Washington Park pool and stopped at the grocery for an ice cream on his way home. He remembers running to the store on errands from his mom and spending the coins from his allowance on sodas.
Sissman had been away from Casper for more than a decade — working in restaurants across the West and in McMurdo Station, Anarctica — until the owners of Grant Street Grocery and Market approached him about being the new chef. At first, he wasn’t interested. He liked his life in Lander, where he founded and ran the MiddleFork restaurant.
But the challenge and opportunity that Grant Street offered tugged at him. Plus, the chance to be a part of revitalizing a much-loved neighborhood staple was attractive. He moved back in November.
“It’s not really my style to romanticize, but that was part of it,” he said, sitting in his tiny office in the grocery, a recipe for jalapeno-pickled eggs pulled up on his computer. “To be a part of that story is cool.”
So far, Sissman’s sandwiches stick to his goal of creating solid foods that have a bit of a “wow factor,” like the roast beef sandwich that adds a red pepper ginger jelly to the more traditional ingredients. This week, the grocery also served a soup of roasted yams, baked brown sugar apples and garam masala yogurt.
The sandwiches and soups will change periodically, Sissman said, and he hopes in the near future to sell handmade pasta and take-home dinners.
“From the kitchen to the front we need to strive to create a laid-back atmosphere — that will translate to the customers,” he said.
Along with a meat counter and a case filled with dozens of cheeses, the store will focus on providing affordable, high-quality foods and specialty ingredients that can’t be found at a normal supermarket, Grant said.
She and another owner traveled to New York City over the summer for the Fancy Food Show, an annual convention put on by the Specialty Food Association. For three days, the pair tasted and sampled and sipped their way through thousands of vendor booths representing companies from more than 55 countries looking for products to bring back to Casper.
Grant walked around the store Wednesday afternoon pointing to some of her favorite finds, including chocolate bars with wrappers featuring animals dressed like celebrities and packets of spices to use with slow cooker meals.
In the summer, the grocery will open an outdoor patio. And soon the store will host classes about how foods are made and other culinary topics.
“We want to push how people see food and how they experience it,” she said.
In the future, the store will likely start catering and expanding the products they make in house. But for now, the owners and staff will work on the recipes they have and, perhaps, take a second to appreciate what they have made.
“It’s very rewarding to see people enjoy this,” Grant said as she watched people wander the brightly lit store, browsing the items she had picked. “I want this to go for 100 more years.”