For nearly two decades, Flat River Grill has been a mainstay of fine dining in Lowell. As a part of The Gilmore Collection, the restaurant has been a popular spot for locals as well as a destination for those who want to enjoy an upscale meal along the Flat River.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Flat River Grill has some big plans in the works. The restaurant has welcomed new staff and will be adding items to their menu. What’s more, the restaurant has acquired the former Century Post Pub building next door and plans to move its bar there once renovations are complete.
New Staff, Same Commitment to Service
Dawn Broderick is among the new additions this year to Flat River Grill. She joined the restaurant as general manager earlier this spring and brings with her more than 40 years of experience in the food service industry.
“This is my dream job,” Broderick says. She and her wife have lived in Lowell for seven years and are regulars at Flat River Grill. A long-time server tipped Broderick off to the job opening while she was in the restaurant for a meal, and she applied on her phone right then and there.
Previously, Broderick was manager at Olga’s Kitchen for 10 years, and then spent last year overseeing a Taco Bell location. “I wanted to try something different,” she says of the move to the fast-food restaurant. It ended being a smart decision in light of the pandemic, and Broderick notes a commitment to good food and good service are the bedrock of positive dining experiences across all restaurant types.
At Flat River Grill, Broderick says there is a personal twist to the service she provides. “I just love seeing my neighbors and friends who come in,” she says. “[We’ve] got so many great regulars here.”
Menu Expansion to Add More Vegetarian Fare
Broderick isn’t the only new staff member at Flat River Grill either. There’s a brand-new management team and a new executive chef, Zeb Houseman.
“We’re not going to change fundamentally what we are,” Broderick says, so regulars don’t have to worry about popular entrees like Chicken Michael disappearing. However, Houseman is planning to add some items to the menu. These will include more vegetarian choices. Although the additions haven’t been finalized yet, Broderick notes, “There’s a pear and goat cheese [dish] that looks and tastes fabulous.”
Hours at Flat River Grill have changed in the wake of the pandemic as well. The riverside restaurant is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but that isn’t a reflection of a tight labor market. “We’re trying to give the chef two solid days off,” Broderick says. “It’s important not to burn people out.”
There has been much said lately about a shortage of workers, but Broderick doesn’t see that as a significant problem for Flat River Grill. In fact, the restaurant has been able to expand hours to serve lunch on Wednesdays through Sundays, which will be a welcome change for the many people requesting this option.
“It’s still tight, but the labor is coming back,” Broderick says. She prefers to see the current market as an opportunity to take steps to ensure Flat River Grill remains not only a great place to eat, but also a great place to work. “It’s just a change in attitude and how people deal with their employees.”
Still, there is always a need for new workers, and applications are accepted at any time.
Separate Bar, Banquet Room and Beer Garden Coming
Perhaps the most exciting change for Flat River Grill will be an expansion into the Century Post Pub building next door.
Broderick says Greg Gilmore of The Gilmore Collection has “great vision” and his plans call for turning the pub into a bar for Flat River Grill. That will allow the restaurant to expand its kitchen into the current bar area. The two sections will be connected by an interior walkway, and Broderick doesn’t anticipate the work will disrupt the restaurant’s normal operations.
That project will begin later this year and will be followed by additional renovations to the Century Post Pub building. The second floor will turn into banquet space and, eventually, there will be a beer garden on the roof if all goes according to plan.
While the past year has been difficult for local businesses, Broderick sees the future as bright. “The recovery from the pandemic is well on its way,” she says.