Words by Louise Casini Hollis.
Images courtesy of The Grey Goose.
Dana Epstein is unstoppable. As joint owners of The Grey Goose restaurant in Hampton, Dana and her husband Philip have been keeping the families of Hampton Roads fed throughout the pandemic. “Immediately, I think like there was this shock,” said Dana, “almost like it’s a snow day when they call for snow and we say, ‘Oh it will pass.’ And then after a week we realized this isn’t going away. So, I immediately got to thinking, ‘Families are at home, and what does a family need?’ People don’t like to cook, or they can’t cook, or they don’t want to cook, and it occurred to me immediately that we needed to offer family style meals.”
Thus was born the Grey Goose’s Family Style meals. These dinners boast generous portions of family favorites like Pot Roast, Meatloaf and Salisbury Steak. “I did fried chicken one night and people lost their minds!” laughed Dana. Each meal is designed to serve 4 adults generously so that it can accommodate a family with multiple children easily, or offer leftovers for an additional meal. The offering has proved to be very popular. “It’s a two sided street for both of us,” notes Dana, “and with the pandemic I just felt like that was the only way I was going to save my business.”
Dana and Philip, both graduates of Johnson & Wales University, have been cooking for the families of Hampton Roads for over 30 years. Dana specialized in Culinary Arts and Philip in Baking and Pastry, which led him to the position as head baker for Colonial Williamsburg for 15 years. The couple purchased The Grey Goose in 2007 from sisters Donna Catlett and Barbara Jones. “Donna was my neighbor when I was a kid growing up, so I’ve known the restaurant since the beginning. [The building] used to be a shoe store when I was a little kid – I used to buy my ballet shoes here,” Dana reminisced.
The original incarnation of The Grey Goose was a tea room for 25 years, designed to serve shoppers in downtown Hampton. “The name was based on some of the Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes,” recounted Dana. Over the years, as retail shops have moved up the Peninsula and the area has become a business district, the Epsteins realized there was a demand for a more full service restaurant. To respond to this need, they added Saturday and Sunday Brunches, alcohol, dinner service, full service catering, and entertainment such as Acoustic and Trivia Nights.
“My husband and I love going to the Pub Trivia night, improv comedy night, and also their ‘dinnertainment’ events,” writes peninsula resident Melissa James. “Our favorites were Lucy’s Christmas Carol and both original Golden Girls shows. The owners really listen to what their customers want and go out of their way to shape the business to demand. That has always impressed me,” she added.
Listening is one of Dana’s best skills, which led her to The Grey Goose’s latest endeavor, a Kid’s Katering service. “I was taking a class with the State of Virginia and there were 16 business people in this class,” shared Dana, “and at one point a half-dressed little boy walks through the screen of one of the girl’s pictures on the Zoom feed and she’s like, ‘Oh my God! I’m so sorry!’ and the little kid was like, ‘What’s for lunch Mommy?’, and I thought, “Oh my God! Every kid in America is saying that right now – like what a nightmare in that you’re trying to be professional and run your business and yet your kids have to eat. So how can we help?”
To determine the best menu, Dana consulted several parents she knows and set up a Facebook group to find out what the children of Hampton Roads want for lunch. “Moms are funny,” observes Dana. “They say, ‘Well, I want my kids to eat this, but what they will eat is this.’ And it’s very different.” Each week Dana will post kid friendly menus and that contain 5 days worth of breakfast and lunch menus as well as an option for snacks that will be delivered at the beginning of the week to your home. Parents and caregivers can order online or call the restaurant to place their order. And delivery? “I’ll go anywhere,” declares Dana. “My husband’s from Norfolk. If I had a delivery in Norfolk, we’d go and we’d visit his parents. If I have to go to Williamsburg, I’ve got family I’d visit. You know I think we’d make it work. Oh, to have such problems!”
The restaurant business can be a tough game even in good times, but add a pandemic and the rules completely change. Dana admits they were treading water at first as they navigated these new waters, but that turned around in May. “We were extremely fortunate to be contacted by World Central Kitchen,” said Dana, “and asked to produce 900 meals a week for them.” World Central Kitchen, founded by chef Jose Andrés and his wife Patricia, works to find innovative ways to end hunger and poverty. They have fed victims of recent natural disasters including those along the Gulf Coast in the path of hurricane Laura. Hampton Roads became a recipient of the foundation when, “Pharell Williams donated a lot of money for use in our region,” Dana explained. “So Social Services contacted me and the Hampton Housing Authority contacted me and that’s who were the recipients of these meals. I mean honestly, without that we would have probably not made it. It was a game changer for us. [The recipients] were all shut-ins and they were calling us, thanking us for the nice meal.” Funding for the program stopped early in July, but Dana says Social Services still gets inquiries for The Grey Goose’s special of the day. “It definitely validated everything we knew we were doing,” added Dana.
“I feel like we really persevered,” shared Dana, “because I didn’t have a choice. Like in my mind – go big or go home. So I wasn’t going to give in.” Longtime customer Katy Feld says, “They are a hard working couple who do their best to offer a unique, personal dining experience. [It’s a] great establishment for the whole family.” And if all of Dana’s new ideas and hard work weren’t enough, they’re soon opening a new restaurant, The Baker’s Wife Bistro, which was in the works before the pandemic hit Hampton Roads. Located on the corner of Mallory and Mellon streets in Pheobus, The Baker’s Wife Bistro will feature American and French cuisine. Dana hopes to be open by early November.
“We’re here for the long haul,” promises Dana. “We’ve been healthy, we’ve been smart, we’ve been precautious. We’re doing all the things we’re supposed to, and from that standpoint I’m not worried.” So, until we can all get back to normal, The Grey Goose is here to help families furnish their tables with tasty meals for all ages and offer a safe haven for socially distanced outings for all.
Check out their website for Family Style Meals or Kids Katering. You can also find them on Facebook, and check out The Baker’s Wife Bistro!
The Grey Goose Restaurant and Catering
118 Old Hampton Lane
Hampton, Va. 23669