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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    The first Black female-owned supper club in Connecticut just opened at Foxwoods

    Live music is part of the Grace by Nia experience.
    Nia Grace (Moses Janga of MoFliks)
    A selection of Grace by Nia’s food offerings
    The Casino Royale cocktail at Grace by Nia
    Creole Pasta from Grace by Nia
    Smoked Deviled Eggs at Grace by Nia
    Low Country Fish & Chips at Grace by Nia

    Mashantucket ― Stepping into Grace by Nia at Foxwoods, you are likely to be initially struck by the cool, sophisticated atmosphere.

    Chandeliers drip from the ceiling. The walls swim with undulating patterns of a wave-like aqua design. Deep blue curtains hang near a stage where, on a recent morning, someone was tuning the piano. Tables and banquets — there are 193 seats with great sightlines to the stage — are artfully placed around the rectangular room.

    There’s more to Grace by Nia than how it looks. There is how it tastes and sounds.

    From the venue’s menu, a visitor can try, say, the Voodoo Oysters, with pancetta braised collard greens, pimento cheese and firecracker breadcrumbs, or perhaps the Caribe Yardbird, which features jerk spiced roasted and charred chicken, seasonal succotash, salmoriglio sauce, herbs and radish.

    Providing the soundtrack for the Grace by Nia experience: live music that, on a given night, might showcase local jazz, R&B, soul or hip-hop artists.

    Owner Nia Grace opened this supper club in Foxwoods last month — making it the first Black female-owned supper club in Connecticut.

    This marks the first time she has opened a business beyond her native Boston. She debuted the original Grace by Nia in the Seaport district of that city just a year ago.

    As the above description might have revealed, a supper club is more than a restaurant.

    Grace was inspired by the clubs of the 1920s through the 1940s, like the Cotton Club and Copacabana.

    “I love that opulence and elegance and the opportunity to dress up and go out and have an amazing time,” she said.

    At Grace by Nia, she said, “You can walk into one space and have a cocktail party reception, then be seated for dinner, enjoy a live performance, and follow it up with a dance, all in one location.”

    Grace also talks about the importance of the experience, from how the team greets patrons, to the creativity of the menu, not only in terms of the dishes but also the fact that it’s organized like a playbill, with “sideshow” and “finale” as section headers.

    She said that one of the biggest compliments she’s gotten is when visitors say they have never been to a place like this before.

    As for being the first Black female to open a supper club in Connecticut, she said, “What that means to me is, well, how do we make these firsts happen quicker? … And then it makes me say: Where are we going next? Because it’s clearly needed, and I want to be a part of it.”

    Grace, 41, has already made an impressive mark in Boston. The Boston Globe named her Restaurateur of the Year in 2023. Boston Magazine named her one of “The 100 Most Influential Bostonians” each year from 2021 to 2023.

    In addition to Grace by Nia, Grace is president and CEO of Bar and Kitchen Hospitality Inc., and she owns Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen and the Underground Café & Lounge, both in Boston.

    She is co-founder of the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, and she serves on boards of directors for organizations including Meet Boston and the Boston Center for Youth and Families.

    Let’s talk food

    Discussing the Grace by Nia cuisine, Grace said, “I have a southern Black American and Caribbean background, and I was myself born in Boston. That has influenced everything I love to eat locally and then things I like to explore when I’m away. … (The menu) has a lot of familiar ingredients but reimagined. Some classics stay classics but enhanced. Keep it creative, keep it fresh and introduce new things and new ways to consume.”

    Grace by Nia offers some dishes created in honor of Foxwoods. There is The High Note Burger, for instance, that’s exclusive to Foxwoods; it consists of two 4-ounce smash patties made with short rib and brisket, pepper jack cheese, tobacco onions, green tomato and bacon jam, habanero herbed aioli, brioche bun, served with truffle parmesan fries, for $22. The Casino Royale cocktail ($18) features Corvus vodka, Bombay gin, Kummel caraway liqueur, and the customer’s choice of its being served straight, sexy or dirty.

    Asked for her personal favorite dish, Grace said, “One thing I’m loving on is the Soul Mezze Platter ($20). It comes to me with a lot of great favorites. We’ve got our stuffed collards that have quinoa and sweet potato stuffed inside of it, so it’s actually vegan as well. We’ve got a black-eyed pea hummus, which is great, (with) a little chili oil and some crunchy chickpeas on top. A great pimento cheese served with Ritz firecracker, so you’ve got the buttery Ritz and a bit of heat from the cayenne pepper. And then there are some plantain chips as well. So it’s just cool to have that spread on the table.”

    She mentioned, too, The High Note Burger, along with the Mile High Red Velvet Cake ($16), which includes eight layers, rich, sweet cream cheese icing, and red velvet truffles covered in milk chocolate.

    Why Foxwoods?

    Grace’s partner in Grace by Nia is Big Night Entertainment Group, which helms several other businesses at Foxwoods, including High Rollers and Shrine.

    Opening a venue at Foxwoods appealed to Grace for numerous reasons, including the sheer number of people who flock to the resort casino.

    “On the business side of it, you’re talking about a captive audience space,” she said.

    But there was also the draw of the Foxwoods operation, which she called historic, and the team: “They’re all legacy, they feel like they’ve been here and watched it grow. The leadership right now, I believe, is very forward-thinking in terms of how to market, who to market to, how to make this not just our parents’ Foxwoods but our current Foxwoods,” she said.

    Getting into the business

    Grace, who grew up in the Roxbury section of Boston, didn’t go to college with the idea of getting into the restaurant business. She studied criminology and African-American studies and was on the criminal law track at the University of Miami.

    “I wanted to work in juvenile courts specifically on the defense side. I wanted to advocate for youths that I knew growing up who had unfortunate circumstances that were exacerbated by counsel who didn’t care about their long-term direction, and that affected their lives,” she said.

    While she is still a community advocate, her life led her into the dining world. She started working in restaurants when she was 16, at the Purple Cactus, whose owner, Marie O’Shea, brought the California/Santa Fe kind of Tex-Mex cuisine to Boston, Grace said. O’Shea was one of the initial female entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry that Grace got to learn from.

    “She was the first badass woman I saw doing it,” Grace recalled.

    Grace went to college and, during summers back home, she worked on the Spirit of Boston. She realized she enjoyed hosting people and making sure they had a good time as she took them through the cruise experience. She also learned about management from two great people she worked under there.

    Grace returned to advocacy, working for a human service program for the same youths that she grew up with who needed support. She later moved to a federally funded program that put media in the hands of the community so people should shape their own stories; it was about empowerment and giving people a voice.

    Through it all, she still felt a pull to restaurants. Grace had gone into Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen in the South End of Boston back in the day and thought if she ever had a restaurant, she would want it to be just like Darryl’s. That notion came back around, and she worked for owner Darryl Settles as a consultant and then a manager. Eventually, she decided she wanted to run her own restaurant. Darryl suggested she buy his place, and she did in 2018. That set her on her current career path.

    Enjoying it all

    During the Grace by Nia grand opening on May 22, Rodney Butler, who is chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, told Grace this: “He’s like, ‘You really enjoy this. I’ve seen you here every day getting ready, and then here tonight, you were here the other day, and you are really enjoying it.’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I mean, God forbid I create something I don’t enjoy myself and wouldn’t be able to sit in here every day.’”

    In fact, that’s part of what she hopes Grace by Nia brings to everyone, that “if you felt like you wanted to stay here all day or be here every day, it would never get old for you. It would always be something that is classic and dependable and that’s like your Mom’s home cooking.”

    k.dorsey@theday.com

    If you go

    What: Grace by Nia

    Where: Grand Pequot Tower first floor, Foxwoods Resort Casino

    Dinner hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Thurs., 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri. and Sat.

    Brunch hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.

    Kitchen hours: 5-11 p.m. Thurs., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri. and Sat. (only cabaret menu after 11 p.m.), and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.

    Contact: (860) 312-JAZZ, info@gracebyniafoxwoods.com

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