NORWICH — Love of food and bowling led a Sterling food truck owner to add a location in the kitchen space of a Norwich bowling alley.
Off the Griddle held a soft opening of their new kitchen, located in the Norwich Bowling and Entertainment Center, but will officially open Aug. 6. The restaurant, which features chicken dishes, fries and grilled cheese, began as a food truck, and owner Jeannie Shear said the truck will continue operating.
Shear said her aunt and uncle had a hot dog stand that she sometimes worked for when she was younger. Shear came back to a culinary career, starting her own truck in 2019, after nine years of being a nurse.
“I was looking to have something new,” Shear said. “I was looking to have more time with my daughter.”
Despite opening the food truck in 2019, the pandemic helped her sell more, as many dined outside during the summer of 2020. Shear upgraded to a larger food truck at that time.
As her business expanded to wedding catering, Shear needed a stationary kitchen to help prepare for those events. Also, she bought an ice cream machine that wouldn’t fit on her truck.
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Shear, her daughter, and her boyfriend often spend time at the Norwich Bowling Center. Shear’s boyfriend told her the alley’s kitchen was vacant again, and she jumped at the opportunity, “no questions asked.”
Norwich Bowling and Entertainment Center General Manager Linda Czapla said the bowling alley rents out the space to make things easier with limited staff. Czapla said she’s glad she found Shear and her business.
“It’s a lot, and nowadays, it’s tough to get people to work,” she said.
Shear has had the lease for about a month. After a deep cleaning, she got the spot open as soon as she could.
“All the bowlers have been dying to get some sort of food in there,” Shear said.
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Groton resident Erica Whipple said she’s tried the grilled cheese and the shakes, and she likes the food.
“Everyone should try it,” Whipple said.
Another bowler, Norwich resident Sharon Daniels, said Wednesday afternoon that she’s liked Off the Griddle’s coffee so far, and looks forward to trying the food, especially when the bowling league gets going.
“Bowlers like to eat when they’re bowling, so it’s a good thing that she’s coming in,” Daniels said.
Shear is still getting used to having a larger space than a food truck, storing more food, and having a stable temperature.
“It feels like I’m swimming in there,” Shear said.
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Shear said she’ll focus on the food truck in the warmer months, while having staff in the bowling alley, and vice versa in the colder months. Shear said her regulars from the food truck are happy to see her in a physical location.
Since Shear already has a following from the food truck, Daniels said it’ll pan out well for the bowling alley.
“Anything that brings people in the door is good for the center,” Daniels said.