Ellen Gracyalny was just 26 when the chance to pursue her dream of opening a restaurant materialized. The Johnson & Wales University-trained chef had only a couple of years of professional experience, having worked as a catering manager and then as a line cook at New England Country Club, in Bellingham, Mass.
But she was more prepared than her work experience suggested, thanks largely to her parents.
“As business owners and loving parents, they have taught me leadership skills, the importance of treating employees and customers as family members and instilled in me the belief that you can achieve anything if you strive for your goals and believe in yourself,” she wrote in her 40 Under Forty application.
Following her parents’ example, she and a business partner bought a building on Providence’s Federal Hill in 1998, renovated it and opened for business on New Year’s Eve that year.
Five years later, Gracie’s moved to an expanded location downtown, where the restaurant’s reputation for inventive, seasonally inspired American cuisine and top-notch service continues to grow.
In 2008, Gracyalny created Gracie’s Star Chef Series, which pairs top chefs from around the country with the restaurant’s team, creating a five-course menu expertly paired with wine. The goal of the series is to create novel experiences to inspire both guests and her staff.
Now 38, she credited her culinary success, in a city long known for its Italian fare, to staying true to a business model focused on “locally sourced ingredients, culinary artistry and an extraordinary level of service.” •