Afternoon sun streams through a big bay window, putting a natural spotlight on a thick stack of rosemary-scented ham and creamy whipped butter on an hours-out-of-the-oven baguette. It deserves the attention. It’s the French Pig sandwich and one of the offerings that draws a steady stream of folks – locals and otherwise – to Tallassee’s Grove Station at lunchtime. But owner Corrie’s Sid’s attention is outside, on the empty buildings surrounding her corner spot in the small town’s downtown. “There are so many closed up spaces down here, but small towns like ours everywhere are revitalizing and reinventing their city centers and downtowns,” she says.
Helping spark and stoke a downtown Tallassee renaissance and then watching it spread from her vantage point in Grove Station’s circa 1920s brick building is a key piece of Sid’s plan, one she brought back home with her when she returned to Tallassee from California’s Bay Area. She grew up in the Alabama city, moved away in the early 1990s, worked in the high-tech world, came home in 2021 and opened Grove Station in September 2021. “I knew I wanted to have a hospitality business that engaged and connected people and felt that should be a market and restaurant. That’s based on things I learned about food in my previous career,” she says. “I got to travel extensively and try the cuisines of so many cultures. I also learned that, everywhere and anywhere you go, food brings people together.”
Sid admits she took a big leap. “It was a bit scary,” she says. “And some friends in California think I’m nuts.”
But she drills down on the thought that’s driving her, noting how Wetumpka’s recent refurbishing, which played out on TV screens nationwide via the “Hometown Takeover” show, fueled her desire to see her hometown buzzing again. “Wetumpka shows that you can take dilapidation and make it usable, inviting and even valuable, and when you do, it’s energizing,” she says. According to Sid, it’s an energy that won’t stay static. “It doesn’t take much to get something like that going. This community needed an uplift, and I think this (Grove Station) can be part of the ‘on switch’ that provides that.”
Grove Station is providing much more, too. For lunch, its ever-changing menu includes a selection of hearty sandwiches on bread baked in-house daily, a couple of salad options, and some days include hot dishes. Patrons pop in for fragrant cinnamon rolls and other pastries, to peruse the butcher counter for a hefty ribeye and ruby-fleshed salmon (smoked on-site) and to reach into cold cases for aged cheddar spread, charcuterie boxes, all kinds of pickled and marinated veggies and entrees to-go, like braised-till-tender beef tri-tip with cheesy polenta and green beans. Other offerings include kitchen staples and gourmet goodies from Sid’s personal favorite brands, plus a curated selection of (mostly) California wines and a generous selection of Alabama craft-brewed beers. Grove Station hosts multiple culinary experiences each month: wine and beer tastings (with food pairings), charcuterie board and fish-cooking classes, and intimate, themed pop-up dinners in a swank upstairs event space that routinely sell out.
While there’s a wide array of dishes and delights available at Grove Station, they’re all built on Sid’s foundational food philosophy: always fresh, never boring. “We are doing a lot of smoking, grilling and roasting, and always using fresh and often local ingredients,” Sid says. “We’ve got some Southern favorites but a very global approach, too. We are being creative and want to expose people to new twists on things and brand-new tastes and techniques, too. You really can’t put our food into any one box.”
Grove Station’s chef, Amber Bonds, shares Sid’s vision to broaden and enliven area palates, and Sid gives Bonds full run of the kitchen. This freedom has paid off, and not just for Grove Station diners. “I had a dream about the brown sugar-cayenne candied bacon she makes,” Sid says. “I mean, that one was actually my idea, but Amber knows how to execute it. We have a lot of fun together, playing around with flavors.”
Sid has found other kindred spirits in her community, people who share her vision to enliven Tallassee’s downtown. “There are other businesses down here already, a ladies’ boutique and a few others,” she says. “And a lot of people who feel the same way I do, so, I want to tie into what’s happening, and I want to help make more happen.”
Any chance she gets, Sid delivers with gusto her sales pitch for the city’s potential, a passion that comes from being a business owner but also a proud Tallassee resident. “There’s a building sitting idle across the street. It could be the best brewery. There’s space for brewing, bottling and then a tasting room overlooking the river. And that’s just one of the opportunities down here. So many small towns in worse shape than this have come back and come back big, so we can do it,” she says. “We just have to believe that we can, and then we have to start acting on that belief.”
Transforming the former hair salon, five and dime and finally, empty space into the bright, airy, welcoming Grove Station is a tangible testament to Sid’s follow-through on her belief. With its prominent corner position and smorgasbord of products and offerings, the eatery and market is drawing people downtown, and not just locals. Women from Lake Martin do lunch at Grove Station. Couples from Auburn and Montgomery dig into the special-event dinners. But in a twist that’s surprised Sid, the bulk of tickets for the seafood socials, four-course filet fetes and more have been sold to locals. “Our first event was all locals, and I love it,” she says. “It tells me people here saying they are ready, have been ready, to see things going on again here.”
It’s also likely due to an intangible that permeates Grove Station, a sentiment straight from Sid’s heart. “It comes back to the desire people have to find a spot that is ‘theirs.’ A restaurant, a coffee shop, whatever. I want this to be that place, and we’re working to enhance that experience and let people know how much we want to serve and please them. I don’t want Grove Station to just meet needs; I want to make you feel special.”
All this combined points to Grove Station’s good chance at making the big impact Sid envisions. “When you take something worn down or worn out and bring it back, everyone loves seeing that. It gives people hope,” she says. And Sid continues to discover unanticipated effects. “The connections I’m making with my customers, they are enriching me in ways I didn’t expect,” she says. “That’s been really amazing.”
19 Sistrunk Street, Tallassee, Alabama
10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)