QUEENSBURY — Randy Gross, pastor of New Beginnings Community Church, is hoping to feed the body as well as the soul.
Gross has opened the Dix Avenue Diner in a portion of the church that housed a kitchen and a cafeteria.
The menu features locally sourced and healthy food items, including dairy products from Bunker Hill Creamery in Cossayuna, eggs from a homestead Washington County farm and meat from grass-fed cattle at Big Picture Beef in Massachusetts.
Gross said the impetus for the restaurant came in 2012, after people around him started dying. He started to do some research about the issue.
“It was the food system that was the leading cause of people’s illnesses,” he said.
Gross said he figured that one of the best ways to help would be to open a restaurant that serves healthy and locally sourced foods.
Gross was able to purchase some kitchen equipment at a good price from a restaurant that was going out of business. He estimated that it cost about $10,000 to renovate the space.
“It’s been 15-hour days here for a good three weeks,” he said. “I love this part of it — seeing a project to completion.”
The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and closed on Sundays. Gross has other responsibilities on that day.
The menu is a combination of standard diner fare and some healthier options. Among the popular items are omelets and Ruebens, according to Gross.
Gross said he is going to ramp up the number of locally sourced foods.
He said he believes in the healing power of these foods. Grass-fed beef is high in levels of omega acids, he said.
Most cattle are raised with grass as part of the diet, but then in the last four months of their life, Gross said they receive a feed that is designed to fatten them up.
“It’s not a natural process. It’s relatively new to the industry,” he said. “Now, the industry is starting to swing backward to the natural system.”
He cited the fact that McDonald’s, the largest purchaser of beef, has been consulting with one of the leading professors to consider switching to solely grass-fed cattle.
“The consumer is demanding a healthier product,” he said.
He is getting his eggs about 4 miles away at a homestead farm in Washington County. Gambles Bakery in Queensbury is providing bread products, and he plans to include rolled butter made by the Amish.
Reviews have been good, according to Gross.
Gross has formed a separate limited liability corporation for the restaurant, which is separate from the church.
In the course of his being pastor over the last nine years, Gross said he was the main contractor and laborer for the building project and had not taken a salary for that work. The board of directors believed it very appropriate to lease part of the building to the LLC for $1.
Gross said he comes from a family of entrepreneurs, but has never run a restaurant.
“I have talent around me,” he said.
Irv LaFreniere is the cook and his daughter Amanda LaFreniere works as a server. Both have experience in the restaurant business. Irv LaFreniere has worked at the Log Jam Restaurant in Queensbury and the former Copper Kettle in Glens Falls.
Gross said he first ran into the elder LaFreniere about 14 years ago at a diner he opened.
“I remembered him and how passionate he was for food,” he said.
When Gross was starting up this diner, a mutual friend put him in touch with LaFreniere, who shared the same vision he did.
“Reach people with meals that heal,” he said.
The restaurant had a decent crowd on Thursday during the lunch rush.
Christina Bolduc, of Queensbury, is going to become a regular. The diner is convenient to her because she lives in a house on the church grounds.
“Those days you don’t want to cook, I can just walk in my backyard,” she said.
Bolduc is a member of Gross’ congregation and supports his mission of getting people to eat healthier foods.
“I recently lost 115 pounds eating healthy and making good choices,” she said.
She likes that the restaurant serves breakfast all day long.
Angela Bovino, of Saratoga Springs, came to check out the diner because she is a friend of Gross. She said she likes the décor and atmosphere.
“I think it’s going to do great here. It’s a great little spot — very comfortable,” he said.
Bill Heil, who raises pigs on a farm in Kingsbury, said he came out to the diner to support Gross.
“He’s a good guy, hard worker,” he said.
Gross said down the line he would like to create a farm in Washington County to help provide meat and vegetables for the restaurant, as well as local jobs. Gross is trying to obtain grant funding for the project.
“The notion is to bring food and the knowledge and power of food to heal the body,” he said. “It’s also to bring a transformation to the local economy.”