Danielle McGrogan had me at “grateful.”
“We’re grateful for your business,” she said as I paid the tab the first time my wife and I ate at Nucleus, the little, unassuming raw food cafe on Main Street in Luzerne. The word “grateful” bounced around in my head for days.
“Grateful” is so much richer than “thank you,” I kept contemplating. “Thank you” is so overused, so rote, so automatic, it’s become almost meaningless. Not “grateful.” “Grateful” has character. “Grateful” says something.
I’m not sure if I was pleased or embarrassed that thinking about the word led me to a line from the 1970s TV show “Sandford & Son.” In one episode, the junk dealer/philosopher Fred Sandford (Redd Foxx) tells his son Lamont, “Beauty might be skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone.”
That’s “grateful,” I thought. Except “grateful” goes right to the soul.
Every time I went back to Nucleus I was told the same thing in the same way, “We are grateful for your business,” and every time I left I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I have to write about this, I concluded. I need to write about this.
That was three years ago.
While not a month has gone by that I have not thought about Danielle and Nucleus and their gratefulness, and while I’ve returned from time to time to enjoy their unique menu items, and while I’ve mentioned their use of the word “grateful” over and over and made a conscious effort to work it into my own vocabulary, I never got around to developing it into a column.
I cannot say why, except, I suppose, that column ideas, like seeds, take time to germinate. Some longer than others. As I considered something to say with Thanksgiving approaching — a day set aside for giving thanks, the word “grateful” seemed ready to bloom.
“It needs to be said,” Danielle told me as we sat in Nucleus on a recent Friday afternoon, just after the lunchtime rush and just before the early evening crowd. “We are grateful for your business. But it’s deeper than that. We are grateful for you, for your existence as a fellow human being.”
She said new employees often are uncomfortable when they hear they are required to say this. “They struggle at first,” Danielle said. “But we tell them it’s essential if you want to work here. We are truly grateful for that human across the counter. One day a customer said, ‘You don’t have to keep saying that,’ and I responded, ‘You don’t understand, we really are grateful.’”
It spreads, Danielle said. “A lot of customers tell us they find themselves using ‘grateful’ in their everyday conversations.”
Grateful is much more than a word, Danielle said. It’s a way of life.
Danielle knows exactly when this way of life began for her. “I ‘went raw’ on October 31, 2011,” she said. “I was a drunk on a bar stool and I made a conscious decision to change my life. The funny thing is I had no intention to stop drinking. My intent was to stop visiting doctors.”
So she chose to start eating a diet of raw foods. “Becoming a vegetarian wasn’t going to do it,” she said. “Neither was vegan. I needed something more radical.”
And with that, the first domino was clicked. Quitting alcohol soon followed. Along with turning off the television.
“I was not happy and I realized it was because I was so far away from who I needed to be,” she said. “I was making the mistake of trying to fix myself from the outside in, not from the inside out. I decided it was time to start taking care of myself. It was a personal responsibility thing.”
Her attempts to eat raw foods led Danielle to identify a gap in the market, she said, and Nucleus was born. She at first considered a food truck utilizing a ’71 VW bus she had acquired but then settled on her current location in Luzerne. The doors opened on Feb. 21, 2014.
“It was risky,” she said. “I actually needed to create a market for what I was selling and I had a budget of just $12,000 to do it.”
“But I had faith,” she quickly added. “This is God’s work. It’s about helping people and helping people is what we were created to do.”
It’s beyond the food, which Danielle describes as “raw, vegan, organic, gluten free and soy free.” It’s spiritual. “We have to give people what we’ve got,” she said. “And that’s not just things.”
Danielle wants to share what she’s learned. What’s she learned the “hard way,” she said.
“You can only fall so many times trying to control things before you learn you have to humble up,” she said. “You have to learn you are not the one in control.”
That means getting your ego out of the way, Danielle emphasized. “The more I am worried about my ego, the less I can help others.”
As we chatted, the door opened and in walked a fellow perhaps a few years older than I wearing a brown Indiana Jones type hat and a kindly face. “Ah,” he said, “there it is,” pointing to an upright piano in the corner.
“I found this 117-year-old Steinway,” Danielle said, introducing me to Lenny Bantel as she did.
“Not the Pittston Bantells,” Lenny said. “I have only one ‘L’. But I know a lot of people from Pittston.”
“Lenny comes in every now and then and plays,” Danielle said. “He introduced me to boogie-woogie.”
Lenny said he’s self taught and has been playing only a couple of years but to hear him you’d never know it. He sat down and started playing a Fats Domino tune, a fitting tribute to the recently deceased legend, and it was clear to me there was no place I would rather be than right there, right then.
I did a full 360, taking it all in.
“The very walls of this place scream grateful,” I said to Danielle.
She just smiled, content, it appeared, to let her walls do the talking.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.