What started out as a mobile food cart set up outside of Lansing City Hall has grown into a chicken empire, with owner Vicki Ueberroth at the helm. After selling her signature “Vicki Chicken” at various Michigan State University events and catering weddings, open houses and other corporate engagements, her company, Grand Grillin, opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in East Lansing on Dec. 1.
“I started my business in 2010 thinking that my kids were all in school and I could work for a couple of hours and bring in a little income,” Ueberroth said. “So, I had the cart, and I set up downtown outside of City Hall across from the Capitol. One thing led to another, and then I started catering, and it just evolved from there, so what I thought was going to be three hours a day has turned into full-time.”
The business took off after being featured on Food Network’s “Food Court Wars” in 2014, with newfound notoriety helping Ueberroth launch her catering branch. Grand Grillin eventually began expanding beyond City Hall, feeding hungry customers at the Anderson House Office Building in downtown Lansing and what was formerly the Lewis Cass Building Café, as well as the MSU football stadium, Home and Garden Show and Stallion Show.
Still, Ueberroth didn’t feel she was ready to open up a brick-and-mortar until COVID-19 made her reconsider the future of the business.
“It was something that I had thought about for quite a while. This location I had looked at probably five years ago, and I chickened out,” she said. “Finally, COVID hit, and it was really scary because you’re like, ‘I’m a small business, do I continue on with what I’m doing, or do I just close up shop?’ Something deep down inside me, I knew I was on the right track to do well. I just said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna try it.’”
The restaurant has been up and running for two weeks, selling salads and wraps featuring the Vicki Chicken. The chicken, with signature seasonings and spices, complements whichever toppings you choose, and the pillowy, warm pita bread is the perfect accompaniment, whether as the base of a wrap or fried and covered in Parmesan cheese and herbs.
Ueberroth credits her five children for helping her grow the business into what it is today.
“Every single one of them has worked in this business and made it happen,” she said. My son was going to med school, and he worked here. My other son, before he started his career as a welder, was a huge part of this as well. My other son is a police officer now, and he still, on his days off, will help out. My other one works in construction, and he was just here last night helping us out. And my daughter manages one of my other locations in addition to here. They’re all huge.”
This family-owned aspect is evident when you enter the restaurant, with a huge mural painted by Ueberroth’s daughter depicting the original food cart outside of City Hall and Ueberroth with her children lining the wall in front of the bathrooms. The staff go the extra mile to make customers feel welcome and at home, never without a smile on their faces.
“I don’t know how I got so blessed to have the employees I have, but every single one of them, whether it’s one of my younger employees or somebody my age, they put their heart and soul into it,” Ueberroth said. “They want to see me succeed, they want to see this business succeed. That means the world to me.”
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