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Philanthropic Italian eatery Grata Cafe opens in Carrboro where Elmo's Diner once was

Grata Cafe Carrboro
Chefs prepare food at the new Grata Cafe in Carrboro recently opened on Sunday, August 8th. Owner Jay Radford says that "the staff are amazing and the food... the food is just great."

The Grata Cafe, an Italian-themed eatery, opened Aug. 3 with the goal of bringing people together through food. The restaurant is located in Carr Mill Mall at the former location of Elmo's Diner.

Grata Cafe offers everything from pancakes to pasta, and serves breakfast all day with gluten-free and vegan options. 

Owner Jay Radford said he has always had a passion for community building, whether that was through running the former Mom in Chapel Hill blog as a stay-at-home dad or founding the philanthropy-focused “Not So Normal Run + Fun."

“I saw a need in the community for a place where people can come together again — a place that is safe,” Radford said. 

Jackie Helvey, a longtime Carrboro resident, visited Grata Cafe after it opened and said she was especially impressed by Radford’s continued dedication to serving his community. 

Helvey ordered “The Table,” a yogurt bowl, the sales of which are donated to TABLE, a Carrboro-based nonprofit dedicated to fighting food insecurity. 

“Not only is the food just really good, but this whole concept of giving back to the community in so many ways is simply unheard of,” Helvey said. 

Similarly, sales from Grata Cafe's "The Arts Center" bowl are donated to The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. 

Unlike many other restaurants, Radford has a no tipping policy. Instead of having his staff rely on customer tips, every employee has a starting salary of $18 an hour, and any tips left on the table are donated to a different charity of an employee's choosing every month, he said.

Radford said he plans to give each employee $100 a month to put toward their health insurance. He also plans to split five percent of the profit among the team members each quarter.

“I run my business differently," Radford said. "I really believe in empowering my team, investing in them and supporting them.”

While the opening was quieter than he had hoped, Radford said he expects business to pick up now that students are back in town.

Nathan Milian, property manager of the Carr Mill Mall, had worked closely with the owner of Elmo’s Diner since its opening 30 years ago. 

“For me, it was bittersweet having Elmo’s leave after all these years,” Milian said. “In addition to our working relationship, I was good friends with the owner. But, likewise, I’m very excited for (Radford) and what he’s trying to do.”

But Milian said Grata Cafe is not trying to be the new Elmo’s. Instead, Radford is making the restaurant his own, giving a new life to one of Carrboro’s most classic dining spots. 

Though Grata Cafe has only been open for a few weeks, Radford said he — and his restaurant — are here to stay. 

“My whole life has been filled with me leaping and looking — sometimes landing on my head like Wile E. Coyote and sometimes hitting the road like the Road Runner,” Radford said. “But, I think we’re really onto something here.”


@DTHCityState | 

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