The inspiration for Anne Griffiths’ military-themed restaurant, the Mess Hall, stemmed from the love within her own family.
The mom of two soldiers — Christopher, 28, in the Navy, and Chase, 20, with the Army — had her children in mind when she opened the American-cuisine eatery in April.
The space at 1064 Drinker Turnpike, Covington Twp., celebrates the accomplishments, bravery and dedication of the members of the Armed Forces in everything from the decor to the 15 percent discount offered to all on active duty or with veteran status.
Griffiths, a Gouldsboro resident, brought years of waitressing and managing experience to the business, but maintained a specific vision for what she wanted when she opened her own place.
“People thought I was nuts naming it the Mess Hall,” she said. “I think we’re all so busy in our own lives, we forget about the men and women serving and why we have our freedoms. I wanted them to think about it.
“When you eat here, you’re giving back, and you don’t even know it.”
Griffiths founded To Help a Friend Foundation, which gives back to military families in a variety of ways, whether it’s helping out spouses and kids who run into obstacles while a family member is deployed or making sure homeless vets have a place to stay and a hot meal to eat.
A collection box in the front of the restaurant collects donations, while a portion of the weekly food profits go to the fund. The Mess Hall gives back in sentimental ways, too, like the donated T-shirts and the small plastic toy soldiers that are free for the taking to remind customers to pray for those serving. So far, more than 1,500 tokens have been given away.
The atmosphere in the Mess Hall is undeniably patriotic, from the giant American flag draped across the front of the dining room to the large murals painted on the walls, one of which was drawn by a formerly homeless vet who lived in the restaurant for five months to work on it before it opened.
In one corner, a replica bunker was built, and one table set for two remains ever empty as a nod to those who remain missing-in-action. The walls have begun to fill up with framed photos of military personnel donated by diners as well as historic pictures of platoons and units. All manner of relics can be found scattered throughout, from MREs to used helmets to a jar of sand from Normandy beach.
On the menu, diners find an eclectic mix of breakfasts, lunches and dinners served six days a week. Saturdays and Sundays offer a made-to-order breakfast buffet (and chocolate fountain) manned by head chef Mario Santos and his fellow chef Joel Allman. Heartier dishes available for later meals include seafood platters like the Fra Diavolo, seafood bread bowl and loaded French fries and more than half a dozen gourmet varieties of foot-long hot dogs.
The restaurant is BYOB with seating for up to 30 at a time, though a new outdoor deck currently under construction will open this summer to add more room. The Mess Hall also offers catering and delivery within a 10-mile radius. Each day after 3 p.m., linens and seat covers adorn each table on site to transition into a more fine dining experience. The wait times occasionally run long, but Griffiths promises patience pays off.
“Nothing is frozen. It’s all made to order, so it takes longer, but it’s fresh,” she said.
Even more than the friendly service, bolstered in part by Griffiths’ own daughters, Destiny and Brittany, and the reasonably priced food, the camaraderie found within the Mess Hall draws a crowd.
“It’s like social hour in here,” Griffiths said. “This table asks that one, ‘When did you serve?’ They make friends, they take pictures by the mural and stay in touch.”
She also leaves her own impression her guests, choosing one (or sometimes several) veterans to honor each day with a meal on the house. She signs their check with the same note: “Thank you for your service. You’re my hero of the day.” It’s a gesture that’s earned heartfelt gratitude and occasionally tears from the recipients. And for Mother’s Day, she also has something special planned for her fellow military moms.
To Griffiths, it’s one more way to underscore the Mess Hall’s motto: “A place where memories are made.” And it’s another reason she said her sons are proud, even though they’ve only been able to see it in pictures while they’re away on duty.
“They think it’s awesome. They think we forget about them while they’re gone, but this shows them we’re always thinking of them,” Griffiths said.
— patrice wilding
The Mess Hall
Address: 1064 Drinker Turnpike, Covington Twp.
Established: April 8, 2017
Owner: Anne Griffiths
Hours: Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Online: Visit the restaurant Facebook page.