PAXTON — As general manager of the newly opened Market Street Grill in downtown Paxton, Ryan Galey takes a lot of pride in providing excellent food and service to his clientele, with the goal that doing so will bring people back again and again.
Having spent the bulk of his adult life working in food service management, the 53-year-old Galey knows the importance of the customer experience, and he strives to achieve a positive one every time.
“I take a lot of pleasure from knowing that we’re providing a great experience and a great meal to people,” Galey said. “I want it to be what they want it to be. … I want to make sure that they want to come back and be a ‘forever’ customer.”The Market Street Grill opened at 125 S. Market St. on Saturday, Nov. 4, with Galey running the show. The new restaurant, owned by Paxton natives and brothers John and Jeff Grove, was initially open by reservation only as a “soft opening” was held through Wednesday, Nov. 15, but it is now open for dine-in and carryout five days a week — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday — with additional services, including a Saturday breakfast and a Sunday brunch, expected soon, most likely starting early next year.
The restaurant — located in the building that contained The Humble Hog barbecue restaurant prior to its closure in February — features food that Galey described as “a little more upscale Americana.”
“We’ll be doing some bourgeois bar food, fantastic chicken wings, double-fried buffalo wings, a hand-breaded chicken sandwich, a New York strip (steak) sandwich,” Galey said, beginning to list off some of the items on the menu. “And our hamburgers and our steak sandwiches and the chicken sandwiches are all half-pound.”
Eventually — once the needed equipment arrives — the restaurant will also have a salad bar.
The menu includes lunch and dinner entrees, all priced affordably, with a Saturday breakfast and Sunday brunch to be added later, Galey said. The menu runs throughout the day with the exception of dinner entrees, which are only available during dinnertime.
“You should feel like you got your money’s worth, and you should feel satisfied and not feel like you were lacking (on portions),” Galey said. “I want to serve you a very tasty meal every time so maybe you crave it — maybe you wake up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to have this burger at least once, because it was something I haven’t’ had before.’ Or, ‘I love these wings and this special house sauce so much because I can only get it here.’ And if (my food) can cross your mind, I’ve crushed it at that point.
“And that’s really what it’s about — it’s about returnability; it’s about making the atmosphere the way (customers) want it to be. I think it’s a combination of putting good (staff) in the right places and treating you the way you should be treated and feeding you the food you want to eat. If I can manage that on a regular basis, I’m thinking we’re going to have a nice run here and make a lot of people happy. It’s not about us. It’s about you. You are the guest. You are spending your dollars here, so I want to make it so it’s memorable for you.”
Breakfast and brunch
Once the Saturday breakfast is added to the offerings, it will not be “a traditional breakfast service like you would get at a regular diner,” Galey noted.
“At this point we’re not planning on doing, like, the fried eggs and scrambled eggs and things,” Galey said. “There’s so many wonderful spots to get that already in Paxton, so we don’t need to try to muscle in a position (to compete with anyone), because it’s already being done so well (at other diners). There will be more of, like, the egg bites — almost like a muffin egg with cream and cheese. You could get a couple of those with a New York strip steak and some toast. … And we’ll have biscuits and gravy, made in-house, and hashbrowns and gravy. We’ll have some things that are the breakfast you want to have but you can’t find all the time. We’re going to give you things you really want to eat.”
That includes a breakfast fan favorite: the same burritos that Galey had made years ago as a cook at what was then known as the Paxton Public House.
“That’s a menu item I’m never going to let go,” Galey said.
For the Sunday brunch, Galey said, “some fun foods is what we’re shooting for.”
“Sunday is going to be more of the ‘play’ day, where we can do some fun type foods or a special or whatever — things that just wouldn’t normally appear on the menu,” Galey said. “The idea is to make it more of a small-plate option, where you can buy a few fun foods as opposed to committing to a big meal.”
‘Full bar service’
The restaurant also has “full bar service,” Galey said, complete with several large-screen televisions turned on during game days. An outdoor seating area has also been built on the restaurant’s south side, along with an extension of the restaurant to the east toward the alley to allow for more kitchen space and a Cabana bar facing the fenced-in, brick-paver patio seating area.
The outdoor bar is expected to open sometime in next spring, once the weather warms back up.
“It’s going to be a really gorgeous space,” Galey said. “We’ll be looking for more of a weather-friendly launch time to really showcase that and really let it shine for the jewel I really think it will be. In my experience, I haven’t found anything locally that will compare with the idea of what we’re putting out there. It really feels luxurious. It’s going to have a nice aura about it.”
Patrons might be pleased to know that Galey will be serving the famous Paxton Punch originally sold at The Humble Hog and developed using a secret recipe by its owner, Ben Grice, who is working to open a new Humble Hog in Knoxville, Tenn., hopefully soon.
There are plenty of other drink options, too, including beer, wine and mixed cocktails.
“We have plans for other mixed specialty drinks we want to get into, as well,” Galey said, “but as we get going we’ll kind of feel that out. We definitely want to give fun options and keep it fresh.”
Galey said he hopes that the Market Street Grill, in addition to the other 14 eateries located in Paxton, can become a destination for local residents and those from elsewhere who want to get a bite to eat while catching a game on TV or before attending shows at The Cadillac, a music and entertainment venue that opened downtown in September.
“We want you to make this your Saturday game-day spot, where you show up and have some of the best wings you’re going to find, watch the game and settle in and run through some appetizers and enjoy the drinks and the atmosphere,” Galey said. “And I want this to be an early (beverage) stop for (people going to shows at) The Cadillac, or I would like (this) to be the dinner place where you go before you go out to your show. We want to be that community spot. I want this to be your ideal hangout spot.”
Throughout the restaurant are historical photos and artifacts of Paxton adorning its walls, including a photo of the 1951 Paxton Mustangs junior varsity high school football team accompanied by a plaque listing the team members’ names.
Others include a photo taken in the locker room of the old Paxton High School, which was torn down several years ago, showing the football team’s seniors and coach in 1955; an antique scoreboard from the old high school; old Paxton Mustangs sports banners listing their season victories; the original “hotel” sign that long ago hung outside a hotel that was on the second floor of the building that contains Hudson Drug & Hallmark Shop downtown; and photos of the downtown streetscape from a century ago, the clock tower atop City Hall and a snowy, winter night at Majestic Park downtown.
The Grove brothers — who also own several other downtown properties and have renovated and improved them all — were in charge of the interior decorations at the Market Street Grill, making sure in the process to give a nod to the town’s history.
“Their love of local history and dedication to promoting it is definitely evident in all the stuff they do,” Galey said. “
Of course, there is also a framed and autographed poster of Gina Miles — Galey’s daughter — proudly displayed. The poster was one created last spring and distributed around town to promote her appearance on Season 23 of NBC’s “The Voice,” which she ended up winning in May. Now in the process of recording an album with Universal Music Group, the Sacramento resident recently celebrated her 20th birthday on Nov. 6, just days after performing as a concert headliner for the first time — at The Cadillac in her hometown of Paxton, no less.
“I’m just a fan — legit,” said Galey, who also noted he is proud of his other daughter, 21-year-old Lucy. “I want nothing but to see (Gina) be successful and be whatever she wants to be, the same way that I want my other daughter to have the life she wants. … I applaud them both on whatever they’re doing.”
From his daughter’s professional success as a singer-songwriter to opening a new restaurant himself, Galey’s life has been a whirlwind in recent months.
“A year ago, none of this was even thought of or possible, and now it’s manifested itself in 12 months,” Galey said. “Where will it be 12 months from now? Sky’s the limit in theory.”
It takes a village
Opening the restaurant has been a “community project” involving a number of dedicated people — from the Grove brothers as owners to Galey as general manager to Rachel Puckett as assistant manager to a mix of about a dozen other full- and part-time staff members, including servers and kitchen workers, Galey said.
“The Groves are building an amazing space, and we’re just trying to operate the best restaurant/bar/grill in that space that we can,” Galey said. “It’s something from nothing, but it’s the idea that it’s a group effort. For something to become something, you’ve got to work at it.”
As general manager, Galey oversees the restaurant’s operation but has a hands-on dual role in the kitchen as its head chef.
“I’m never going to be away from the kitchen,” Galey said. “I mean, it’s part of what I do.”
Galey has lived in Paxton since 2007 and has been married to his wife, Amy, since 2016. A native of Champaign and 1988 graduate of Central High School, Galey moved to Paxton from Urbana as his parents were living in nearby Loda. Around that time, his sister, Gretchen, moved to Sacramento, Calif., where she now lives and serves as her niece’s agent in the musical industry.
“This town feels like a community,” Galey said of what he likes about Paxton.
Prior to becoming general manager of the Market Street Grill, Galey worked most of his adult life in food service management, including a stint running his own food truck, Pork On Pavement, in Paxton; heading the kitchen at both the Paxton Public House and Shooky’s Bar in Paxton, both of which have since closed; managing a couple of area Pie’s the Limit stores, including one in Champaign; managing a Silver Mine Subs store on the University of Illinois campus; and working for Pot Belly’s on campus; serving as the operations and food manager at the Fluid Event Center in Champaign; and running his own catering and restaurant consulting business for many years.
On the side, Galey also sells life insurance as a licensed agent for Farmers Insurance — a job he has had for two years — and does gigs as a disc jockey. At one point, Galey owned Game On! — a video game store in downtown Paxton — for nearly three years.
‘Service: My love language’
Puckett, Galey’s assistant manager at the Market Street Grill, previously worked with Galey at the Fluid Event Center, where she oversaw staffing for the bar and special events.
“Her specialty is definitely the people side (of the business) — the bar side, the serving and .. making sure that the guest experience is top notch,” Galey said.
As Puckett oversees the serving, “I’ll be micromanaging the back of the house, making sure we get the food where we want it and keeping everything on the path that it should be,” Galey said.
Combined, they hope their efforts — and the efforts of the rest of their staff — provide a great customer experience.
“Service is my love language, period,” Galey said. “I’m happy because you’re happy. That’s really what it comes down to: I’ m a better butler for you than I am a king for me. That’s just the way it works. I would much rather make you happier.”
Galey is loving every minute of his new gig and is thankful to the Grove brothers for the opportunity.
“It’s what I want to do, and it’s where I’m supposed to be,” Galey said. “There’s a lot of faith and trust placed in me at this point, … and I take it very seriously in the idea that I have a responsibility to make this work.”
The Market Street Grill accepts reservations and can be reached at 217-579-1160. More information can be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The restaurant’s website is under development but is expected to launch soon.