From a Dream to a Nightmare and Back, Grindhaus Finally Opens

Full story as published 12/26/13 on

By Rich Arleo

Five years after signing her lease, Erin Norris finally opens Grindhaus at 275 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.

“A half a decade…that’s a long time,” said Grindhaus owner Erin Norris.

The restaurant started out as a dream for Norris, but after she signed her lease back on April Fool’s Day in 2008, it became a nightmare.

The whole idea started when she and a friend made what she estimates to be about 300 sausages for the neighborhood in her friend’s backyard. That night she had a dream where she envisioned Grindhaus, and she decided to act on it.

Norris found the space for a good price back in April of 2008, but didn’t realize what she was getting in to. The first of the long steps was waiting until December for her building permit. Then there was a year of work done by just her and a friend.

“The budget was so tight I couldn’t have a big firm come in and do it,” she said. “My parents actually did a reverse mortgage on the house we grew up in to fund this. It was a big leap of faith for them.”

Then there was a year where Grindhaus had to be put on hold as Norris worked 80 hour weeks as a restaurant manager in Manhattan. But then she joined Little Neck in Gowanus closer to home and was inspired.

Grindhaus was almost done as the end of 2012 neared.

“I had plans to open around this time last year,” Norris said. “Everything was basically done…and then the flood happened.

“The contents of my kitchen were in the dining room. It was traumatizing. Not to mention the basement was full of four feet of mud. That really takes the wind out of your sails.”

But when her mother who had given up so much to help told her it was OK if it never happened, Norris was more determined than ever.

With the help of a fundraiser on Kickstarter, money from Restore Red Hook and a few more grants and loans, Grindhaus has finally opened.

“It’s a challenge every day, but I love it,” she said. “I wanted to do this mostly because I really enjoy serving food. I don’t have a backup plan. I’m in it for the long haul. It’s hard to even think there was a time I was considering walking away from it.”

Originally planned to be a sausage parlor, the size of the kitchen made those plans change. Now featuring a fresh, seasonal menu with items for both meat lovers and even vegetarians, there is still one nod to the past.

Chef Aaron Taber and sous chef Leon Douglas were sure to include one sausage dish on the menu, a Meurgez that Norris calls “just the best.”

“They’ve got technique and they’re super inventive,” Norris said of her chefs. “They wow me on a daily basis.”

Now in its third week, Norris still hasn’t had time to sit and realize that the dream finally became reality.

“It really hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “I don’t have time to sit and think about it. I’ll never get to sit over in my favorite seat and have dinner. It’s just not going to happen. If I’m here I’m on the floor running around.”

The five-year push to open Grindhaus is over, but that was just the beginning. The restaurant, Norris says, was built with the intention of giving back to her parents while doing what she loves: feeding people.