Amy’s Grill & Cafe: Persevering Through the Obstacles of the Pandemic and Inflation

Julianne Villarreal, Social Media Editor

Looking for a new eatery to dine at locally near campus? Serving traditional American breakfast dishes on the menu and with a welcoming atmosphere, Amy’s Grill & Cafe has plenty to offer. From the savory home fries and mouth-watering omelets to their burgers and milkshakes; How did this hidden gem come to be? 


The namesake chef and owner, Amy Lee, could have never imagined that 20 years later she would still be working where she is today. “I started off thinking that I’m gonna do this for two years and make my money and get out. [It] has been 20 years, where’s my money?” laughed Lee.  


First starting as a CPA accountant, Lee quickly decided that the career path wasn’t for her. With years of experience in the food industry – working at her mother’s shop since the age of fourteen – she decided to take a stab at the restaurant business herself. 


In a twist of fate, Lee purchased the shop from one of her mother’s former customers, Dave Larson. After receiving some training from Larson for the first two weeks, she began her own take. Within the first six months, however, Lee soon learned that she was severely underprepared for a project of such magnitude. She didn’t fully understand the financial aspects when it came to running a business. Reflecting on her past experiences in her mother’s kitchen, she regretted how she didn’t necessarily lend a helping hand when it came to those responsibilities. Additionally, Lee was met with the harsh realization that the food business is never-ending work.


One day, as she was driving to her friend’s house after having suffered a nervous breakdown, Lee had an epiphany. Reminiscing on her life decisions, the exhausted entrepreneur came to the conclusion that she never fully finished things that she started – it was easier to take off when things got tough. After her realization that she had invested so much of her time, money, and self into her cafe, she drove back – this time with a firm resolution and determination to commit to this business that she started. 


“So I came back, and I haven’t looked back since then,” she shared. 


Lee eventually got the hang of things after 5-6 years of experience: learning how to budget right, lessening food waste by making the ins and outs of her dishes just right, and learning to not stress about perfection. “I, if I don’t get it done today, I’ll get it done tomorrow. I’m not a perfectionist, I know things get dirty, it’s gonna sit there, wait for me, I’ll get to it when I get to it.” 


Another key part of her job – and one that she looks forward to –  is seeing and catching up with her customers. “You really do see beauty in so many different people. Some of my customers were pregnant with their baby and now [the babies] are twenty years old… so it’s generation after generation, I get to know a whole family. So it is a lot of fun,” said Lee. 


During the Covid-19 pandemic, Lee had trusted that her customers would come back once dine-in seating resumed. Thanks to the loyalty of her customers who continued to order takeout, and government assistance, her business survived the pandemic. 


Jared Darling


Now faced with current inflation rates, many restaurants have raised their prices to stay afloat. However, despite the recent raise in the price of eggs – a necessary ingredient for breakfast restaurants – Lee reassures that her prices will remain the same. 


To give context, Lee explains, “Throughout the 20 years of my career, [for a] 15 dozen box of eggs when it is at its cheapest – they’re like $9.99 and at the highest, like $69.99. That [price] was when there was a bird flu a while back ago.” Flash forward to December 2022, Lee stated, “The box of 15 dozen eggs started off at $59.99, and by the end of the month, [they cost]  $125.”  


Regardless of the price, Lee is adamant about keeping her current menu prices. “Eventually [the prices] go down within a couple of months. I don’t mind making a little less money in my pocket,” she added.


Besides consistency in prices and great food, Lee offers her employees the same level of quality service. Robert Campbell, an Ohlone College art major who works as a server at Amy’s Grill, used to go to the establishment with his family since he was little and to this day, it remains a highlight of his childhood. “It’s nice to be able to work at a place that brought me a lot of joy as a kid,” noted Cambell. “My favorite part of my job though is bringing little kids their milkshakes I make, it just makes my day,” he concluded, affirming his positive experience working at Amy’s Grill. 


By maintaining an upbeat work environment, quality customer service, and loyal customers, there is no question as to whether Lee enjoys operating her cafe. “After 20 years I am still excited to come to work. I still am happy seeing my regular customers and I’m happy that I could pay my bills doing what I love to do.” Continuing, Lee emphasized the importance of youth: “I love to see young hipsters in here, young students, I love the energy – they give me a lot of energy. I see our future [in them], and I always wanna give them more food,” she joked. 


All in all, if you’re on the lookout for a local eatery to have a casual hangout, indulge in some tasty food, and kick back in a friendly environment – right here in Hayward, Amy’s Grill & Cafe will be your newest go-to breakfast spot.