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The Ball State Daily

Birddog Café reinvents comfort classics

<h5>Birddog cafe opened to share their unique twist on food with the community. Photo by Kaylin Kieft </h5>
Birddog cafe opened to share their unique twist on food with the community. Photo by Kaylin Kieft

Becca Grindle and Kelsey Grindle talked of opening a food truck when they got married in May 2022. Becca had worked in restaurants for more than 20 years, and Kelsey had grown tired of his work in the pharmaceutical industry.

They would name it Birddog, after their two bird dogs, Wheeler and Hopper, and they would serve comfort foods with twist. Becca enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, and she wanted to invite neighbors to savor her culinary creations.

Wheeler (left) and Hopper (right). Photo by Kaylin Kieft

“We like to make familiar things, nostalgic items, dishes that people grew up, and just make them how we like them. We make them unique,” said Becca, who grew up in Muncie.

Becca knew the Muncie food landscape. She baked for The Cup when it first opened in the Village and made pizza doughs, pies and cheesecakes for Greek’s Pizzeria. She gained skills in “fine dining kitchens up north” for a time before returning to Muncie. As her experiences grew, so did her desire to open their own place.

Every morning, the display case is filled with freshly-made goods. Photo by Kaylin Kieft

Simmering on a dream

In early 2023, the Grindles learned about a storefront location for sale at 113 W. Jackson St. They decided to invest in a café rather than a food truck.

“We knew the landlord personally, so he kind of gave us a heads-up,” said Kelsey, who graduated from Ball State in 2013 with a double minor in psychology professional selling. “We just decided to go for it. It was kind of a split-second decision, to be honest with you.”

Coming up with a name was easy. They stuck with Birddog Café to reflect their joy for cooking outside with their dogs, whose photos are displayed in frames that say “Employee of the Month” and “Not Employee of the Month.”

The café opened its doors in early November 2023 and the Grindles have woken up about 3:30 a.m. Thursday through Sunday ever since.

“We just come in and do what we do, and the good reviews keep coming,” Kelsey said. “We’ve got people we never knew until this place opened, and now we see them every day.”

The couple runs the café with minimal staff. They like being involved in every aspect of the business — from ingredient selection to baking and management. Becca cooks and bakes every day, and Kelsey manages the front of house. “He’s the talker, and I'm the quiet one,” Becca said. Becca’s sister, Ryn Neely, occasionally helps on the weekends, when the café has the most traffic.

Diving into the menu

Becca hand-picks every ingredient used in the café’s whimsical, hearty dishes. She strives to prepare affordable dishes with a high-end look and taste.

“Our whole thing has always been taking familiar things, nostalgic items, things that people grew up with or are familiar with, and just make them how we like them. We make them unique,” she said.

The menu, which is written on the café’s walls and on Facebook, remains similar throughout the year, but Becca cooks with the seasons.

Birddogs permanent menu. Photo from Birddog Cafe Facebook.

“In the fall and winter, I do soups made from scratch, fresh daily. My spring and summer menu features different salads and fresh greens,” Becca said.

She loves inventing hearty soups from buffalo chicken and Mexican street corn to fire-roasted tomato with white beans and lemon chicken artichoke. She’s invented a spicy Calabrian chili tomato soup with a pesto cream swirl, and the most requested soup: Dill pickle.

Every item on the menu has a twist. “Nothing I do is something that you're going to get anywhere else,” Becca added.

Other popular items include her “skull muffins,” which she bakes in a skull mold, and fresh breakfast sandwiches and inventive bagel combinations.

Blueberry skull muffin and a chocolate brownie. Photo by Kaylin Kieft.

She creates a different flavor of cinnamon roll each morning and has developed somewhat of a cult following of customers who are eager to see what’s featured each morning. Flavors include strawberry cheesecake, Fruity Pebbles, blueberry, tiramisu and Pop-Tarts.

“The cinnamon rolls are our most popular item. I post them daily (on Facebook) because if I don't, I get messages all day long. ‘What's your favorite today?’ ‘What flavor are you going to have tomorrow?’ So, I try to make sure that I always post them because I don't always have time to respond to every single inquiry,” Becca said.

Birddog also offers black coffee sourced from The Caffeinery, a coffee shop down the street. Birddog offers cream and sugar to add to the coffee, but they do not prepare specialty drinks.

“The folks at The Caffeinery are good friends of ours, and they do a great job making lattes and drinks like that, so we have them make our coffee,” said Kelsey, who is from Fairmount, Indiana. “We support local, and if anybody's looking for a signature drink, we always send them down there.”

Made with love

Muncie local Jasmine Harris said she visits Birddog at least twice a week to enjoy some of her favorite menu items, including “The Beast,” a breakfast sandwich, which is a “BLT but better” that includes avocado and a homemade Calabrian chili aioli. She also loves the dill pickle pasta salad alongside a breakfast sandwich croissant with bacon, gouda, mushrooms and spinach. For sweets, Harris likes the maple bourbon coffee cake, brownies and the raspberry chocolate chunk Skull Muffin.

“Everything they make, I promise, it's addicting, and it's because of the love. When you come in here, it's such a cool vibe and everybody's so friendly, all walks of life. And that's what I love,” Harris said. “They’ll go far because this is such a welcoming spot for anybody and everybody on top of the absolutely delicious, truly homemade food.”

Maple bourbon coffee cake. Photo by Kaylin Kieft.

Harris said she returns each week because of the food but also because, “They’re just such good people and you can truly tell their food is made with love.”

“You know how you meet good people, and you're like, ‘I don't care what you're selling, I want to see you succeed because you're so good and you have such a good product.’ That is them, she added. “They care about what they’re selling and what they’re doing, and it shows in their food. Oh my gosh, it shows in their food.”

Jasmine is among a handful of regulars the Grindles have come to expect every week.

“We have a lot of regulars, and if I don't see them every day, I worry about them, like ‘Are you okay? Do you need anything? Should I send them a message on Facebook to make sure’?’” Becca said.

Kelsey added: “We try to talk to every single person on their way in and out. We want to make sure everybody enjoys their experience here.”

Avocado toast, dill pickle pasta salad and a breakfast sandwich with bacon. Photo by Kaylin Kieft.

Growth and maintenance

The food is the main draw, but the atmosphere is equally appealing. The couple play easy-going music, and the colorful walls are decorated with art from their home. The Grindles said the entire place — from the food to the artwork — gives customers a glimpse into their personality.

Owning a small business is challenging, though, Kelsey admits. It’s been difficult to keep up with the demand. The café is “still trying to find the groove,” he said, so they have not made any major changes or expansions. They are, however, considering outdoor seating and adding a few different items like homemade Pop-Tarts, smoked meats and even smoked baked goods.

Staying up to date on the latest baking trends has been a “piece of cake” for Becca. She is focused on continuing to perfect their classics, while adding in a new item here and there to keep the menu interesting.

“We have a rabid fan base about certain items that if we took it away, we would never see some people again. So that's what I'm navigating to; trying to add on but also maintain,” they explained.

Strawberry cheesecake cinnamon roll. Photo by Kaylin Kieft.

Customers and their two dogs continue to motivate the Grindles throughout the day.

“Neither one of us were happy with what we were doing before, and I think just trying to do what we want to do is all the motivation I need to be honest with you. We do this because we love it,” Kelsey said. “We thought we were going to struggle, and we were fully prepared to do that, but we just did this because we love good food and we wanted to do our own thing.”

Birddog is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday-Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.

“We're not fast food. We really strive to make sure every dish is perfect too, so we don't cut corners. We're not going to send something out if we're not happy with the way it looks.” Kelsey said. “We're a place that strives to serve good food to people who want to eat good food. There are some fast options, but as long as people are patient with us, most say it's worth the wait.”

Keep up with the café on Facebook.

All Inform Muncie articles are written by students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in a classroom environment with a faculty adviser.

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