By Scott Shurtleff
DEVENS — How to improve on greatness was the primary challenge for the new owners of Devens Grill.
Their response? Add options.
Building on the established popularity and reputation of the previous owners, Vivek and Rama Kamath have added to the new menu without subtracting anything from the old one.
The 4,000 square foot business has been at the 4 Ryan’s Way address for more than 10 years, and the Kamath’s aim was to keep the large, loyal group of patrons while also expanding the profile and customer base. They seem to be accomplishing that by using their slow and minimalist approach to change. They recognized immediately that it was the employees, and the products they prepared, that kept long-time customers coming back.
“We really liked the staff here so we decided to keep everyone on board,” said Vivek. “People want consistency when they go out. And by keeping the same menu, and the same group of cooks, we’ve accomplished that.” They also kept the name but are gradually introducing a new logo, and maintain the same wide selection of beers but augment that with a rotating plethora of microbrews on tap.
The Kamaths, Vivek a retired business executive and Rama a retired architect, actually bought the business from Elaine Gailey earlier in the year and had been transitioning since February before taking over operations in May.
“We decided about a year ago that we wanted to own a restaurant,” said Vivek who resides in Stow. “We looked at about 10 from around the area before deciding on this one.”
It has a natural population of potential customers. With an abutting army base and three hotels within walking distance from which to draw an ever-changing parade of visitors, Devens Grill can rely on a steady supply of traffic throughout the year.
One feature that the Kamaths adopted and plan to grow is the catering business that operates out of the establishment.
“We deliver into the woods when the soldiers are here training,” said Rama. “We give them a full, balanced meal complete with fruits and vegetables. We have also got a few more catering clients with other local businesses.”
The communal give and take extends outward as well. “We buy all our produce locally from Little Leaf Farm,” also in Devens. “We buy fresh fish five days a week and never freeze it,” Vivek continued. “And our steaks are as good as you’ll find at any five-star restaurant.”
The employees too adapted to the change in ownership just as smoothly.
“It’s the same core group of people here that were here before,” said cook William Quiles of Fitchburg. “There’s hardly any difference in working for Elaine as for the Kamaths. They let us try out new specials and appetizers that we devise or have seen at other places.” Two of the more popular new inclusions are the sidewinder fries and Irish nachos.
In fact many of the employees even spend their free time there, enjoying dinner with family or imbibing in beverages with coworkers. “It’s a family atmosphere in here, not just for the customers but for all of us,” said bartender Katie Sheldrick. “There’s been really no difference since the changeover. It’s just as efficient and just as pleasant.”
Matt Bearce of Shirley is a longtime customer who just returned for the first time since the change of ownership. “So far, so good,” he said, giving a thumbs up after his latest meal.
The 200-seat restaurant — which is open every day except holidays because, said Vivek, “Our employees have lives and want to be with their family during these times.” — has a new, professionally designed website which includes a complete take-out menu. The Kamaths think ecologically and decided not to produce any paper versions of their take-out menus.