Paige Mason Littleton had never opened a cafe, though her sister had once told her that her home-cooked chicken salad and quiche were so delicious that she should have her own restaurant.
“She’d say, ‘You have to have a cafe and you should serve this,’” says Littleton. “She must have put the bug in my brain, so I saved the recipes.”
Some 10 years later, in January 2021 and long after retiring from working in marketing for a financial firm, Littleton opened the adorable Garden & Grounds Bistro in the former Atwater’s space on Falls Road. (Littleton hired Chadli Sassi, formerly of Brightview Senior Living, as head chef.) The menu features everything from chicken and waffles and fried green tomatoes to avocado toast and acai bowls and smoothies.
“People say, ‘Why would you do this? It’s such a hard business,’” says Littleton. “The main stress is making sure everyone is happy and the food is the best it can be. It’s stressful, but it’s also really fun.”
Why did you want to open in this particular space?
I really love the Falls Road Corridor. I love the community around here, from Ruxton to Pikesville and Roland Park. I’ve never walked into a restaurant and thanked the restaurant for being there, but we get that here every day.
Tell me about the mission of the menu.
I wanted a healthy menu, but I also wanted people to be free to indulge, so it’s healthy with a Southern twist. You can come in and have French pastries or chicken and waffles or just stick to salads. I like to say that we have Coke and Kombucha—whatever you prefer. I want people to come in and have whatever they want.
Where did you get your inspiration for the menu?
I was inspired by Heirloom in Lewes, Delaware, and Egg in Rehoboth, which has great breakfasts and lunch. I love that their portions are on the larger side, and we have that, too. My dad lives in [the South]. There’s a Badass Coffee of Hawaii down there, and that inspired me, too. When we visit he’d try to show us around, but we’d say, “No, we have to get our coffee first.” We carry it now, and I can drink it every day. I ate out at so many restaurants [for research and development], which was exciting at first, but now I’m tired of eating out.
How did you come up with the name?
The garden part of the name is supposed to represent the fresh organic foods and the grounds is for the coffee.
The décor is so light and airy. What were your design goals?
I worked really hard on the décor. I didn’t hire a designer—I planned out every inch myself. I wanted a space where people could come in and forget about their day and their problems and just have fun with the people they are with and relax. I play Diana Krall, not rock and roll—I’m not sure what my employees think.
What lessons have you learned since opening the cafe?
This is a story about how anyone can make their dreams come true—if you really feel it and want to do it, you should just go for it.