If you haven’t been to the old Chrysler site in some time, you’re in for a surprise.
Gone is the manufacturing plant, built in 1951. In its place is the University of Delaware’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus, a collection of sleek, new buildings with futurist facades.
However, the newest resident on the STAR campus isn’t inventing biopharmaceuticals, editing genes or coming up with new chemicals.
Instead, Grain Exchange is preparing wraps, sandwiches, cocktails and salads for employers, students, faculty, locals and visitors.
The restaurant, which opens today, May 10, at 591 Collaboration Way, is part of OMG Hospitality, which owns and manages Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark, Trolley Square and Kennett Square; Grain H2O in Bear, Grain on the Rocks in Lewes, and Lewes Coffee Co., which has space next to Grain on the Rocks and Grain Exchange.
A logical step
To recap: Grain is the brainchild of friends and neighbors Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue, who spent time chatting around the Mikles’ firepit. The University of Delaware graduates discussed the need for a family-friendly restaurant with casual food and great drinks.
The friends did more than talk — in 2015, they opened the first Grain on Main Street in Newark, and more followed. Grain H2O and the Kennett Square site both debuted in 2017.
By 2019, the partners were in talks with the University of Delaware to put a restaurant on the STAR campus, which many dubbed a “food desert.”
“We thought it was a great customer base that we wanted to tap into long term,” Mikles said of the employers taking up residence on the site. “We’re not a college bar, but we felt what was happening at STAR was significant.”
The existing buildings weren’t designed to accommodate a restaurant. Enter the six-story FinTech Innovation Hub, built from the ground up.
Not only does the 100,000-square-foot structure have space for a dining room and outdoor patio, but it also has room for a catering and commissary kitchen.
Growing with Grain
So why the name Grain Exchange? Primarily to avoid confusion, Mikles explained.
Tell a friend to meet you at Grain in Newark, and your GPS might take you to the flagship restaurant in downtown Newark.
It’s not unusual for the Grain restaurants to have distinct identities depending on the location.
For example, the Kennett restaurant serves mushroom soup, and the Lewes site has steamed shrimp.
“In the FinTech building, we want to show off our pride in Delaware and get people excited about that,” said Mikles.
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It’s not the first time. The Newark Grain was named for quirky Delaware inventor Oliver Evans, who created an automated flour mill for — wait for it — grain.
At Grain Exchange, Work Progress Administration-styled artwork pays homage to Delaware innovators, including Evans, also the inventor of the steam-powered Oruktor Amphibolos. Many consider it the first automobile.
Another poster salutes Aunt Sallie Shadd, a caterer who served ice cream to freed black people in Wilmington. Reportedly, First Lady Dolley Madison traveled to Delaware to taste it, and she adapted the recipe for the 1813 inaugural ball.
Ed Schmidt of Schmidt Advertising & Design in Newark designed the framed posters and a lobby mural with postcards of American grain exchanges, including Chicago, New York, Boston and Sioux City.
While the artwork might whisper “Art Deco,” the dining room is decidedly contemporary, with plenty of wood, clean edges and an abundance of windows looking over the patio.
Stay & dine or grab & go
The restaurant’s location in an office and research complex also influences the menu. Lewes Coffee, which has a nook on one end, keeps the morning crowd caffeinated. Other options include baked goods, egg dishes and smoothies.
The dining room menu is currently focused on appetizers, salads and sandwiches.
On a recent visit, guests shared seared squares of garnet tuna decorated with squiggles of wasabi aioli and teriyaki and served on fresh greens ($13)
Salads are also available as wraps for grab-and-go customers, and the seafood salad is a refreshing mound of crab and shrimp in dill-Old Bay mayo ($16). (The salad also comes on a roll.)
Four burger varieties are served on onion-poppy seed rolls, including a black bean burger and PJ (Plain Jim), with cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce and red onion ($13.25).
But the star is the hot pastrami sandwich with Swiss and spicy Dijon on multigrain bread ($14).
The kitchen may offer entrees in the future, but for now, the team is getting its feet wet. There are some 2,000-plus employees on the campus — with more on the way — but the traffic in the restaurant and busy hours are yet to be determined.
Of course, you don’t need to work on the STAR campus to dine or drink at Grain Exchange. But you do need to know how to get there.
The restaurant is a few blocks back from the highway.
Tip: Turn onto Discovery Boulevard from South College Avenue (Route 896). The FinTech building is between that road and Research Boulevard.
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