First Look

Ellen's Brings Diner Food and Social Justice to Allen

It's a little different, but it still feels like Ellen's.
It's a little different, but it still feels like Ellen's. Alex Gonzalez
A West End favorite has set up its second shop in the suburbs.

Founded by Joe Groves and chef Russell Mertz, Ellen's offers Southern cuisine and diner food, inspired by Groves’ mother, Ellen. And it’s now open in Allen.

Ellen’s first opened in downtown Dallas eight years ago with 32 seats and 12 full-time employees. Now this location has 85 full-time employees and 120 seats.

“Depending on the day of the week, we’ve outgrown that, as well,” Groves says, “which is a nice problem. It was never our intention to get there, not even an aspiration to get there. We always want to just have a small, little cafe, but the demand kind of created a situation where we needed to grow.”

click to enlarge Ellen's is now open in the suburbs. - ALEX GONZALEZ
Ellen's is now open in the suburbs.
Alex Gonzalez
The walls of the new Ellen’s location are bedecked with abstract artwork, many of which are paintings by local artist Jay Cantrell. Squares and rectangles are a recurring motif at Ellen’s in Allen, with even the front door and windows containing colorful paintings.

When planning for a second location, Groves initially had Far North Dallas and Frisco in mind. When he found this space, he felt it was the perfect match.

“Honestly, Allen was not on our radar at all. We wanted to do something up north, but we weren’t actively looking,” he says. “Our Realtor called one day and said, ‘Hey, there’s this interesting property that just came up, it might be worth looking at.’ We came up and made a decision immediately. It was kind of serendipitous.”

Groves says the new Ellen’s location has allowed him and his team to be more creative. He has plans for more locations, with at least five by the end of 2021. He wants for each location to be somewhat different from the others, allowing people to compare them and pick their favorite location — or at least be surprised every time they walk into an Ellen’s.

This location has a spacious private dining room that Groves calls the library. The books, all arranged on shelves by color to create abstract designs, add a vibrant feel to the space.

click to enlarge The grits Benedict from Ellen's - ALEX GONZALEZ
The grits Benedict from Ellen's
Alex Gonzalez
Ellen’s in Allen offers the same great burgers, brunch and other Southern-style menu items as the original. Signature items include the grits Benedict, a hearty plate of cheese grits with Texas hickory bacon, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, two poached eggs and homemade hollandaise ($15).

Known for his outspokenness on social justice issues, Groves assures that Ellen’s in Allen will also be a safe space, like the West End Dallas location. Every employee is required to sign an agreement that any jokes and negative comments on race, sexual orientation, ability or gender will result in immediate firing.

Whether it’s downtown or the suburbs, Groves has found most of his customers are tolerant, accepting people.

“There are reasonable people everywhere,” Groves says. “Intelligence is not based on geographic location. To me, it doesn’t even have to be political. It’s more about common sense.”

Ellen’s, 210 S. Central Expressway, Allen. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez