“It’s not rocket science, Doug Grabe begins, “it’s the business.”

Little Pub – Old Saybrook

The “business” to which Grabe is referring is the hospitality business, which for the last decade has thoroughly consumed his life and that of his wife and business partner, Daneen. The Grabes own Little Pub, that delightful, comfortable, feels-like-home spot right on the Post Road in Old Saybrook. It’s only been there less than a year, but make no mistake…this ain’t their first rodeo!

The Grabes opened Little Pub in Ridgefield in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed investing themselves into the close knit community. They knew their clientele well, listened to what they wanted, met their needs, and enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with the consistency of being part of a neighborhood. Several months ago, however, the Grabes shuttered their Ridgefield location due to lease renewal issues; nevertheless, they currently have successful Little Pubs in Wilton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Old Saybrook, and a fifth location in Stratford.

When you speak awhile with Doug Grabe, you might think he had been in the restaurant business all his life, yet it’s only been ten years. But in truth, Grabe has always been in the hospitality business regardless of where his career path took him. He had initially been highly successful in both manufacturing and the software industry because he realized from the onset that this was about hospitality – about treating people well – which in turn contributed to his considerable success. When he and Daneen decided to take a career 180 and make their foray into the restaurant business, he admits, “We knew nothing about it other than we knew we wanted to open the kind of place that we would like to go to frequently,” says Doug.

When Little Pub opened in Ridgefield it was from the first a friendly sort of place with a rustic atmosphere, wood beamed ceilings, wood floors, fireplaces, a menu that was delicious and adventurous, but never pretentious, and appealing to a wide demographic from young families to couples, singles, seniors, and everyone in between. Each succeeding Little Pub location has been designed exactly the same way – same interior, same menu, same welcoming bar and dining room.

“No one who comes to Little Pub will ever go away feeling cheated,” Grabe says. “We always give more than what people are used to receiving – generous portions of both food and cocktails. Matter of fact, we only get three glasses out of every bottle of wine, so people always get their money’s worth…and more.”

From the beginning, Grabe’s philosophy has been to hold firm to four tenets: serve good food consistently, be nice to everyone, offer great value at all times, and make sure the restaurant is spotless. When he is complimented on that way of doing business, he eschews the praise by saying, “It’s not rocket science, it’s the business.”

Doug feels that you can only accomplish those four things if you hire a great support team, and that he’s done in each of his locations statewide. Grabe firmly believes that “every position is an interaction with a customer from the dishwasher, to the chef, to the server, to the bartender and front of the house.” And it is that sincere commitment he instills in each of his employees he calls his family. “I have five families,” he laughs. “I have my biological family, and I have the family at each of our restaurants.” Not just a bunch of words, not just lip service. This man is fully invested in each of his teams. When the Grabes closed the Ridgefield location, he was certain to make sure each employee was placed at one of their other restaurants.

Doug looks around the Old Saybrook Little Pub, whistle clean, beamed ceilings with rustic chandeliers, fireplaces, smiling waitstaff, and even better, smiling customers of all stripes. “The focus here is on food that embraces many different cuisines,” Doug says, “and the focus is also on fun. We serve traditional pub fare plus hamburgers, a little Tex Mex, some Asian influences, salads, handhelds, really something for everyone.” His menu has been carefully crafted by his Executive Chef, Tim Passuro, Jr. who oversees all Little Pub properties and operates a strictly scratch kitchen where food is created fresh every time it’s ordered.” Timmy’s a genius,” says Grabe. “He’s not from the Culinary Institute or Johnson and Wales, but taught by his grandmother. How do you get better than that?”

A quick glance at Little Pub’s menu reveals not just the traditional, but a bit of the “unorthodox,” as Grabe likes to call it. Little Plates features items like pickle wings – crispy wings brined in pickle juice accompanied by a jalapeno-dill buttermilk ranch dip; there’s a sweet potato tostada; eggplant frites, 3AM at the diner fries loaded with melted cheese, chopped bacon, and finished with chicken gravy; Maryland crab cakes, and crunchy vegetable spring rolls, just for starters. There are little crocks of chicken tortilla soup, chili, and seafood bisque. Like cheesesteak? Then you love Little Pub’s take on a chicken cheesesteak, their exotic dragon roll burrito, peking duck or ahi tuna tacos, shepherds pie, pulled pork, BLTs, midtown falafel, Thanksgiving turkey wrap, Napa salmon flatbread…there just isn’t enough room to list all the unique takes on the fresh, distinctive food to be found at Little Pub. Ten different kinds of burgers, salads from the plain to sublime invention, and then there are those creative cocktails, craft beers, and just plain fun in the pub.

Want entertainment while your raise a glass and enjoy a great meal? Little Pub’s got live music weekdays with local singers and great bands on the weekends to accompany your experience.

You think Little Pub’s got it all? Doug shakes his head. “We are in no way a finished product,” he states firmly. “We are constantly refreshing ourselves. We are constantly working to get better at what we do here. That’s our focus. Sure, we fail at times, but when we fail, we fail quick, and we learn.”

There is nothing that gets this man down, no challenge he considers too daunting. When he and Daneen acquired the Stratford property which is currently being built, “it came attached to a 29 room hotel.” Asked if he were tearing it down, Grabe looked shocked. “Oh, no, he replied. We don’t know anything about operating a hotel, but we’ll learn. Working hard doesn’t ever get old for us.”

Fighting words indeed spoken by a man for whom the unorthodox is his fuel, the unknown his motivation to work, to grow, to constantly better his situation for himself, his employees, and especially for those fortunate enough to find and embrace Little Pub as their own.

Little Pub is at 1231 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook (860) 339-5591