The radio offers a soft backdrop of old and new school Rhythm and Blues. Sounds of light laughter and the bustling of cooks around the kitchen can be heard. Cooks are comfortably interacting with one another and visitors while preparing meals. It seems like a family gathering with food and charming company — except for the payment transactions distinguishing customers from workers.
Actually, it’s the Langston Grille, the eatery of Langston Golf Course, the first course providing blacks in the District a place to golf.
Traffic is as usual this Saturday morning.
“The morning shift is usually the busiest,” says Lonnie Manning, 43, a chef at the Grille. “But, we have it down to a science and get people in and out. We know what regular customers want.”
The cooks enjoy the familiarity of and involvement with customers.
“When people say they enjoy my cooking, it makes me feel like a proud father,” Manning says.
An employee at the Grille since 2008, Manning likes to add a dash of humor in his daily routine.
“I have conversations and joke with the customers,” he says.
The love of family
David Royal, 45, is another chef during the morning shift and has been working with the Grille for two years too.
“It’s the first place I’ve worked where it’s fast paced and you actually interact with the customers,” Royal says while making tuna balls. “We get the food to the customers fast.”
Royal’s first time serving in a restaurant was with Luby’s in San Antonio, Texas, during the early 2000s.
“I liked it there,” Royal says. “Often, a lot of people talk bad about Texas, but I met some really nice people.”
But loyalty and love bought Royal more than 1,600 miles back to D.C., where he was born and raised.
“I left for family,” Royal says. “My mom got sick.”
Putting family first is not uncommon for Grille employees.
Janice Arrington, assistant general manager of the Langston Golf Course, came to D.C. from North Carolina to help care for her nephews when her sister became ill with liver cancer. Overseeing operations of the Grille is one of her responsibilities. Arrington, 61, has worked at the course for 20 years and says she continues to love her job.
“I like meeting new people, and I have a passion for cooking and golf,” she says.
Golf and a meal
While customers sometimes visit the golf course just to eat, they often play a few rounds of golf accompanied by a hearty meal from the Langston Grille.
“After you walk all over the course, you’re hungry and good food is a plus,” Manning says. “Guys who come in the morning sometimes eat before they play.”
Customers are not the only ones with a powerful drive.
One of Arrington’s fondest memories is hitting two holes-in-one, she says.
Having played softball from the age of 13 to 41, Arrington was no stranger to athleticism when she began playing golf upon moving to the District.
“I like the sportsmanship; playing with the guys,” she says. “They treat me like one of them.”
The challenge of golf appeals to Manning, Arrington’s nephew.
“You have to stay on your game. It’s not like basketball when you can take a break and still be fresh. You take some days off golf, and it’s like ‘that swing is off,'” says Manning as he cocks his head as if waiting to see where his golf ball will land.
Manning tore his ACL while playing on an intramural basketball team in Germany, where his wife was stationed with the Army. While in Germany from 2000 to 2003, he worked with the federal government. However, his interest in golf began long before that.
“I started playing golf after my father died. He played it,” says Manning, whose father died of cancer in 1996.
Royal has not been bitten by the golf bug quite yet.
“I’m thinking about venturing into golf,” says Royal, who has played basketball and football. He appreciates the lighthearted competitiveness of the sport.
“I see them talk a whole lot of stuff,” Royal says of the players in and out of the Grille.
“I wouldn’t mind playing with the people I work with,” he adds with a grin on his face.
A second home
Nevertheless, a little rivalry will not hurt.
“I love it,” Royal says of the Langston Grille. “Everyone is like family, even with the boss.”
The fellowship that employees embrace among one another and customers is part of their character.
“I love cooking and laughing with people,” says Ernestine Roland, a cook during the afternoon shift.
She revels in the delight of visitors who eat her food.
“I used to work at a charter school, where I just served,” Roland, 58, says. She prefers to be more hands-on when making meals and she likes that her job allows for that, she says.
For five years, Roland has worked at the Grille. Her shift partner is 40-year-old Shantilla Gadsden, a Grille employee for one year and two months.
“I love working with Ernestine,” Gadsden says. “People say we work well together.”
The Langston Grille provides catering for events at and away from the golf course, including tournaments, youth programs, private parties and D.C. Council breakfast meetings.
“I like interacting with people during the events,”Gadsden says.
Grille customers can eat their food in the dining hall of the Langston Golf Course while watching television and mingling with other visitors. The Grille offers breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, consisting of pancakes, omelets, fish, chicken and tuna salads, sandwiches, soup, steak, a variety of platters and more.
Whether a visitor’s intent is to eat, golf, both or simply exchange pleasantries, the Langston Grille staff extends an open invitation.
“Come join us and participate in the activities,” Gadsden says.