Count the following as specialties at GruBeez: Chicken and waffles, steak with shrimp, pizza, fried fish and burgers topped with macaroni and cheese or hash browns or sandwiched between two doughnuts.
The list goes on.
“It’s comfort food — the only things that are missing is a TV and a couch,” said Antonio Perkins, 47, who co-owns the small Davenport eatery with his wife, Nina. “When you’re messing with GruBeez, you don’t want to be going back to work.”
Along with a widespread menu, Perkins serves up daily off-the-menu specials, which are announced via Facebook posts accompanied by mouth-watering photos. The restaurant’s page is nearing 4,000 likes.
“I have an idea in my head, but it could change by the time I wake up,” he said. “We’re always trying to do something we haven’t done before or a twist on something we’ve done before. It's always changing. We get calls all the time about something they saw on Facebook and we say, ‘That was a one-time special from like a year ago.’”
There’s one element to the menu, however, that never changes: the price. No matter what, Perkins said every meal, often featuring giant portions, at GruBeez is priced under $10.
“The closest we get is $9.99,” he said. “I do it that way because I can.”
After talking with Perkins last week, there’s another reason — decades in the making — he and his wife do it that way.
A longtime dream
Since Perkins was 17, the Quad-City native has always had a job in the restaurant business. He worked in hotel kitchens and places such as Famous Dave’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano, TGI Fridays and Olive Garden.
“I always loved cooking; my mom raised me up that way,” Perkins said, adding that his mother never used recipes and went by taste. “We would cook the simple things like pancakes and eggs and corn bread. It was trial and error.”
Those times spent in the kitchen are bright spots in Perkins’ somewhat rough childhood. When asked what it was like to grow up in a neighborhood near downtown Davenport, he answered this way: “Horrible.”
“It was the 1970s and it was slummy like most ghettos,” he said. “Thankfully, it doesn’t look like it did when I was a kid.”
In his 20s, he started dreaming about owning his own restaurant not tied to the “corporate way.”
“I always thought about a place where a family could sit down and eat and not break the bank,” he said. “We couldn’t go out to eat as a family when I was growing up. The best we got was McDonald’s and that was rare.”
It took another two decades — and tying the knot with a fellow food buff in 1998 — for Perkins to make it happen.
When he and his wife saw the “For Lease” sign outside the property on the corner of Pine and West 3rd streets in Davenport, they went for it. They opened GruBeez, with the motto “The Buzz of the Town,” in December 2014.
Perkins could finally serve whatever he wanted and cook the way his mother taught him. Plus, the couple committed to using the establishment “to give back to people that don’t have as much,” Nina Perkins, who left her job as a manager at TGI Friday’s in May, said.
“We were both raised poor, so we know what it’s like,” she said. “We want to be a place where you can eat as a family and it's affordable."
Unless you frequent the West End of Davenport, GruBeez isn’t a spot you’d likely just pass by.
I first heard about it from David Vandecar, 30, of Davenport, who emailed me in December about GruBeez. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from his office at Palmer College of Chiropractic, but Vandecar said the location is “kind of out of the way.”
“It is an off-the-beaten path location, but don't let the inconspicuous digs fool you,” he told me. “It’s not an area I go for anything else. It’s worth going there as a destination.”
Still, Vandecar, who like other customers I talked to, said he found out about GruBeez from friends and on Facebook, frequently makes the trip to pick up a meal.
GruBeez primarily does carry-out orders with customers either calling ahead or walking up to the window to order. The restaurant has some outdoor seating, but no seats inside. The owners occasionally walk bags of food across the street to customers at Thirsty’s on Third or other nearby bars.
“It's the variety ... You could go there almost every day and never have the same thing twice,” Vandecar said. “The only reason I go on Facebook is to check their specials. It’s hard not to go every day.”
Hectic, but worth it
Perkins begins each day shopping for ingredients. He shoots to be at Hy-Vee or Sam’s Club or Save-A-Lot by 7 a.m.
“During that journey, you could come across a great deal and then your special changes,” he said. “I’ve found a deal on lamb chops before — you can’t find a lamb chop dinner anywhere else for $9.99.”
He’s then cooking until 10 or 11 p.m.
The owners don’t have any employees. They rely on help from relatives to keep up with the fast pace of orders.
“It wears on you,” Antonio Perkins said. “You just muddle through when it’s busy and keep going. You try not to take any days off, because it’s just you.”
Two weeks ago, it was extra busy when the couple announced they’d offer tacos for 65 cents each.
“It’s a special we have about three times a year,” Perkins said. "It's something to give back."
Droves of customers showed up. Some ordered as many as 30 or 40 tacos at a time.
“We got blasted,” Perkins said. “The line was so long and wrapped around the corner.”
Those days are hectic, Nina Perkins said, but worth it.
“It’s important to give back to the West End and everywhere,” she said, adding that she and her husband gave away backpacks and school supplies around the start of the school year.
They dream of opening multiple locations with indoor seating, hiring employees and being able to give back more.
But for now, it’s easy for her to say what's special about GruBeez.
"It's about the people we see and their smiles," she said. "And it's all ours."