Dan’s The Grub Shack makes no bones about it — they’re proud to serve up “all-American comfort food,” but they’re doing it with a few twists.
This unassuming eatery opened its doors in August 2010 in the Kmart plaza in Atascadero, a location that affords it plenty of free parking. With only eight tables, it can fill up fast during peak mealtimes, but the cooked-to-order food comes out fast and hot.
Owned and operated by Dan and Laurie Schwent, The Grub Shack has a strong local following, thanks in no small part to Laurie’s welcoming personality in the front of the house. A former caterer, this is her first restaurant gig, but not so for Dan, who handles back of the house duties.
After starting out as a dishwasher at age 15, he built up a résumé that includes everything from being a sous chef at a landmark fine-dining establishment in Kansas City, to an executive who opened well over 100 locations for a national franchise, to the manager of a couple of local restaurants.
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Dan had no intention of opening his own restaurant — “just the opposite” in fact — but when the opportunity presented itself, he and Laurie decided to give it a go.
By design, The Grub Shack started with a very limited menu — “just bone-in chicken, one salad, three sandwiches and four burgers,” remembered Dan. The current and much larger menu is almost solely a result of customer feedback.
“Everything that’s on the menu now started on the specials board,” said Dan. “I use that not only to promote dishes but to get information from my customers. I talk to them and listen to them.”
As a result, the bone-in chicken quickly flew the coop and gave way to items such as a grilled chicken Club, a Blue Buffalo chicken tender sandwich, and even Hillbilly Bleu Balls — chicken breast rolled up with bleu cheese, hot wing sauce and celery, then deep fried.
The sandwiches now number about 14, and include everything from house-made pastrami to house-made barbecued beef brisket, from Philly cheesesteak to slow-roasted pulled pork, from a ribeye steak sandwich to an open-face chicken-fried steak sandwich. Other items include house-made chili, Hawaiian Loco Moco (complete with a fried egg and brown gravy) and frog legs. Yes, frog legs, and they jump onto plates to the tune of five to 10 pounds every week.
The Grub Shack is also known for its fish and fries. The Pacific cod filets are hand cut, then dipped in a light cornmeal batter before being deep fried.
Another hallmark of The Grub Shack is the selection of Smash Mouth Burgers, and some of them are certainly no ordinary burgers. You can still order the basics, plus turkey and veggie burgers, but most people go all out with a Poor Boy with bacon and pulled pork atop the burger, or a Farmhouse with Buffalo fries, fried egg and grape jelly, or the Macaroni Bacon Cheeseburger that’s a whopping combo of a grilled cheese, bacon cheeseburger and a serving of mac and cheese.
To its credit, The Grub Shack doesn’t give short shrift to salads either. The generous options include a Southwest chicken, a classic Chef salad and a Chinese chicken with grilled pineapple.
“We know our niche,” said Dan. “We want to serve All-American comfort food but with a twist, and we’re always looking for the next best thing in town that’s a little different. We’re all about serving good food fast, but we’re definitely not fast food.”