Collison to manage Lewis store

submitted to dorchester banner/laetitia sands Phil and Charlotte Spedden with their grandson Jacob Collinson beside the old John Lewis General Store’s 142-year-old doors. After renovation, the store will reopen as the Neck District Grill.

submitted to dorchester banner/laetitia sands
Phil and Charlotte Spedden with their grandson Jacob Collinson beside the old John Lewis General Store’s 142-year-old doors. After renovation, the store will reopen as the Neck District Grill.

NECK DISTRICT — The John Lewis General Store, a venerable watering hole in the countryside west of Cambridge known as the Neck District, is to reopen on Oct. 1, after a hiatus of two years, under new management, new ownership and a new name.

On Thursday, Jacob Collison, 22, will leave his job as a chef at the Hyatt Regency hotel and resort to manage the 142-year-old store, which will become The Neck District Grill. Mr. Collison, a Neck District native, continues a tradition of local families running the store, which for generations served as a social hub as well as drawing some illustrious non-local customers, like former President Jimmy Carter, who used to go duck-hunting in the area.

John Lewis and his wife Shirley ran the store for 52 years, until Mr. Lewis’ death in 2008. Before that, his parents John Sr., and Naomi, kept the store, which they had bought in 1947.

Asked why he would exchange a job with a potentially glamorous, high-salaried future for running a store 20 minutes from town, Mr. Collison said: “Family, I want to stay here with the family.”

The chef’s grandparents, Phil and Charlotte Spedden, decided to make his dream come true by buying the store, which had been for sale for several years following the departure for California of former owners Youngman and Jennifer Collins. “This was his dream, we hope it doesn’t turn into a nightmare!” Mr. Spedden said, laughing heartily, during a three-way interview with “The Banner” on Saturday.

“We wanted to buy the store and we asked him: ‘Will you run it for us?’” Mr. Spedden said. His grandson chimed in: “I said ‘yes’ and in a couple of years, I will buy it from them.”

Mr. Collison, youngest of the Speddens’ six grandchildren, has clocked up an impressive amount of experience in the culinary field, having learned to cook from his mother and grandmother, before working at various restaurants, culminating with the Hyatt, where he has been employed for two and a half years.

He also attended the DCTC Votech Center, in Cambridge, and worked parttime in the general store under Mr. and Mrs. Collins, learning all aspects of the business. From 2015 to 2016, another Neck District native, Laura Wingfield, leased the building and ran the store, but decided not to buy it.

Work to modernize the building at 1042 Hudson Road has been going on for several weeks. Innovations include new siding, installing a 28-foot long counter, moving the entrance back to its original spot and resurrecting the 1875 doors, now fitted with plexiglass.

“The old windows will remain, but it will have curtains for the first time,” Charlotte Spedden said, adding that people stopped by every day with suggestions and requests to have certain things on the menu, and some “have gotten really hostile about changing it, but you have to move on.”

Unlike the old store, the new establishment will carry no canned goods and only a small inventory of staples like paper towels, milk, eggs and bread, Chef Collison explained, adding, “I like the sub-shop feel, the deli feel.” And, “down the road, I’ll make some jams and preserves to sell.”

In addition to breakfast and lunch, eventually the young entrepreneur will make dinner once or twice a week. He will feature local specialties, like green lima bean soup and dumplings, a recipe passed down to his grandmother from her mother, Martina Todd.

The Grill, the only place where Neck District residents can buy supplies and meals without going into the city — a 20-mile ride for some — will be open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. A room will be available after 6 p.m. for private parties.

For reservations, call 410-228-3052. The Grill will also be on Facebook, Chef Collison said.

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