Brightly colored metal pots containing a variety of dishes ranging from volcano rice to Asian greens released an aroma of amalgamating spices into the air. This experience, unique to the streets of Vietnam and Thailand, has reached Boston despite being 8,000 miles away, thanks to entrepreneur Chris Freeman.
Opened on Oct. 2 in Downtown Crossing, Grainmaker brings new southeast Asian fare to New England in the form of rice bowls, salads, and sandwiches.
Before opening Grainmaker, Freeman worked in management at Burger King for over four years. His reasoning behind leaving the company lies in “the food quality.”
“I just couldn’t stand behind the product,” Freeman said. “It wasn’t something I believed in that matched with our values and morals of eating better as humans and knowing exactly how much to eat.”
After venturing on a six-week long trip to Southeast Asia, Freeman was inspired to open a restaurant that would provide the Boston community with southeast Asian street food. The naturally healthy component of the food and its large demand in the world influenced the creation of the restaurant. Freeman’s primary motivation, however, lies behind helping the growth of local businesses.
“Our primary aim is in fostering local Boston,” Freeman said. “It’s all about staying away from corporate America and growing Boston as a whole.”
While most restaurants take pride in working with small farms to obtain fresh produce, Grainmaker goes above and beyond this. For Freeman, partnering with small farms is crucial, as is working with local companies for products other than produce.
“You’ll never see Coca-Cola in here,” Freeman said. “You’ll never see those big coke machines. You’ll never see Sriracha bottles that people put on top [of] their food. We make our own in house and if we don’t make it in house, we’ll work with local partners,”
In adhering to this principle, Grainmaker partners with Somerville Bread Company—a small local business—to supply baguettes for its sandwiches. The ceramic bowls used at Grainmaker were hand-crafted by Tyler Gulden, a local ceramics artist. The restaurant also offers customers house-made beverages, such as mango ginger smoothies, thai basil limeade, and locally sourced beer.
Since its opening, customers have responded positively to both the food and the service. Many favor the menu’s emphasis on customization. Grainmaker offers pre-set dishes and the customer is able to personalize the meal by choosing the protein and a variety of sauces. Additionally, Grainmaker’s partnership with antibiotic-free local farms, in addition to its unique menu items, such as the cauliflower rice—which is simply minced cauliflower—and volcano rice—rice grown in volcanic soil—have caught the eyes of many.
The healthy aspect of Grainmaker attracts a multitude of customers, and Freeman took this into account when deciding where to establish and build his business. The restaurant is most accessible to millennials and Generation Xers with the large number of colleges close by and the young professionals who work in the area. This was Freeman’s target demographic as they typically demonstrate a greater inclination towards healthier eating.
As with any new business that’s in its first month, changes and adjustments were made as the restaurant began receiving feedback from the customers. At first, customers said they were served too much food, which they did not want to waste. In addition to donating the remaining food at the end of the night to Boston Rescue Mission, Freeman solved the issue by working with the “employees on serving the right portions that will leave you filled for lunch, but won’t leave you overly full or wasting food.”
While Grainmaker only opened a month ago, Freeman sees great potential for the restaurant. Referring to his restaurant as the “flagship,” he wishes to open ten new locations in the greater Boston area within the next few years.
“We want to grow just in Boston to really provide for even more people in the community and build that network of small businesses in the area,” Freeman said.
Featured Image by Hannah Young / Heights Staff