Susan Stephens Wietsma at The Grit in Athens.

It was 1988, and I was an aspiring “townie” in Athens, even though I was really just a college student with a pair of Doc Martens, a black turtleneck, and some used Levi’s. 

I will never forget the moment I walked into The Grit at The Station. Back then, you went to The Grit to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and listen to music and poetry. I was totally intimidated and felt like a fraud, but it was transcendent to be surrounded by the Athens artistic elite. 

Eventually, The Grit moved to its location on Prince Ave. and became the vegetarian restaurant that we know and love today. Living within walking distance of The Grit for most of my time in Athens,  I became a regular, and The Grit was my gateway drug to becoming a vegetarian. 

It was more than a restaurant to me – it was an identity.  It was there that I celebrated birthdays, nursed hangovers, cried over breakups, planned for the future, and fed my heart and soul.

And now we have to bid farewell, and I’m heartbroken. 

I first read about The Grit closing after 36 years on Oct. 7 in the Rough Draft newsletter. I went to tell my husband and immediately burst into tears. He is painfully aware of my obsession – there has not been a trip to Athens in the last 25 years that didn’t involve my being the first in line at The Grit for breakfast. I’ve been known to eat there multiple times on one trip, and even manufacture reasons to go to Athens just so I can get my Tofu & Veggies. 

It sounds like such a simple dish, but there is nothing basic about it. In 2002, my brother gave me The Grit cookbook, and ever since then I have tried to recreate The Grit’s tofu. It simply can’t be done. Some people say it’s the nutritional yeast, some people say it’s the freezer. But I think it lies in the magic that is The Grit. 

I’ve said goodbye to many beloved Athens restaurants over the years – The Bluebird Café, Gyro Wrap, Rocky’s, The Mean Bean, Lumpkin Café, Sons of Italy, The Taco Stand (the real one), but nothing comes close to the grief I am experiencing over the closing of this Athens institution. Sure, it’s a gastronomical loss, but it’s way bigger than that – Athens is losing a cultural heartbeat. 

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine.


Susan Stephens Wietsma, a recruiter based in Decatur, is a graduate of the University of Georgia.