Phillys and Philanthropy

New restaurant, Grille-N-the-Ville, serves cheesesteaks and the community

by Shelby Ahlborg

For Matt Willis, the restaurant business is not just about serving good food ­— it’s about giving back to the community.

Willis is the owner of Grille-N-the-Ville, a new restaurant on Main Street south of the Cedarville Opera House that opened in early May. Willis is a Cedarville native. He moved away and did some cooking in Yellow Springs, eventually opening up his own restaurant there. He later found himself returning to his hometown.

Willis and his family and friends who work at the restaurant have attempted to create an atmosphere that is laid-back and comfortable.

“We wanted to create a normal, more modern feel,” Willis said. “I guess you could say kind of like a sports bar with a casual feel.”

Willis’s girlfriend Michelle Harlow also works at the restaurant. She agrees that it is similar to a sports bar.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of sports memorabilia,” Harlow added. “Plus we’ve got the wings, and the Phillys. And then we’ve got other stuff, for everybody.”

Willis said he believes that many restaurants in Cedarville have a country, home-cooked feel. He wanted to create a place that was more contemporary.

Willis said he wanted his restaurant to be “for the modern generation, instead of more mashed-potatoes-and-gravy sort of thing.”

Indeed, at least in the way of food, the Grille-N-the-Ville menu has definitely shaken things up a bit in this small, country town. The restaurant started by serving burgers, chicken wings, and Philly cheesesteaks. The cheesesteaks are something they have been serving for a while, first for a non-profit cause at the Dayton Dragons baseball games, and then for cheerleading teams, including cheer teams with special needs.

Willis used this previous food experience to generate his menu. Since then they have come out with an expanded menu, adding food like salads, wraps, and ice cream sodas.

“We’re kind of evolving,” Willis said. “Now we do have the gluten-free bread and options coming in for vegetarians.”

If a customer doesn’t see anything on the menu that meets their needs, Willis said that he and his staff are more than willing to experiment and come up with a special order for them. Willis and Harlow have been in the food business a long time, so they are well-versed in the realm of allergies, making Grille-N-the-Ville an option for Cedarville students looking for a place that can meet their dietary needs.

For new customers, Willis recommends the “Big Buster Philly,” which has provolone, onion, green peppers, mushrooms, and freshly sliced steak meat from a local farmer. Other recommended menu items include the “Midwestern Philly,” their best seller; the “Bacon Ranch Burger,” and the “Zucchini Kale Salad.”

“We take pride in our food, and we want to make good food,” Willis said, “and sometimes that takes some time to do. A lot of times, you’re not going to come in here in five minutes and get something, because we want to have that hand-patted burger cooked, and we want to have a good product for each and every one.”

One of the things that makes Grille-N-the-Ville special is the concern that Willis and his staff have for both their restaurant and the community around them. Not only did Willis gain experience in the food business when he served at non-profit events — he gained a passion for serving others which he then carried into his restaurant.

Harlow expressed support for Willis’s vision to give back to the community.

“We support everybody,” Harlow said. “The boosters, the junior high, the high school, and the college. Wherever we can give back, we give back. We’re proud to help anybody with anything, if it’s sports, education, art, music.”

As the primary owner of the restaurant, Willis wants to not only help people himself, but hopes that the restaurant’s generosity will inspire others to do the same.

“When you spend money here, it goes back to the community,” Willis said. “We want to stay humble. Our business motto is ‘There’s no greed in our food.’ If we have money coming in, it’s to pay people well so they can work, or even so a college student can afford books, or a kid can get shoes. We’re here to do that. We try to stay humble, stay positive, show our children that if you work hard and put your head to it, you can achieve your dream and be successful, and if you are a success, to spread that to others.”

Shelby Ahlborg is a junior graphic design major and arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. In her free time, she enjoys drawing, writing, and studying the animation and special effects in movies.

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