Chefs endow Grinnell scholarship to celebrate friendship forged over food

July 5, 2018 — For chefs Elizabeth Wiley ’79 and Elizabeth Valenti ’83, food is the basis of their lifelong friendship. They have cooked and shared meals together for nearly four decades, starting in Grinnell when they were students, and continuing today at their two restaurants in Dayton, Ohio.

To celebrate both that friendship and Grinnell College, the duo has created the Wiley and Valenti Endowed Scholarship, which will annually provide $2,000 to a student in need.

Elizabeth Wiley ’79 and Elizabeth Valenti ’83
   Elizabeth  Valenti ’83 and
   Elizabeth Wiley ’79

The co-owners of Meadowlark Restaurant and Wheat Penny Oven & Bar, Valenti (known as Liz) was a freshman and Wiley (who goes by Wiley) was a senior when they met at Grinnell. The two would reserve private dining rooms (PDRs) and have dinner parties for friends, and they both worked and cooked at various establishments in town and on campus.

“Cooking was so integral to our social lives and sense of community at Grinnell, and that’s what sprouted the roots of both restaurants,” Valenti says. Wiley said she and Valenti have made a great team over the years. To celebrate their friendship, they chose to endow a scholarship. Both chefs are strong supporters of Grinnell’s need-blind admission policy.

“The businesses have afforded us a good living,” Valenti said. “We pay our employees well (they provide health insurance, 401k plans, and paid vacations) and recognize that if we hadn’t gone to Grinnell, met there, then eventually made our way to Yellow Springs, Ohio, there wouldn’t be this incredible restaurant Meadowlark, which gave birth to Wheat Penny and afforded us this life.”

Their professional cooking careers began after graduating from Grinnell, when Wiley moved to San Francisco and worked at several restaurants in the city. Valenti soon joined her and later earned a degree at California Culinary Academy.

“California in the early 1980s was a great place to get a job cooking,” Wiley said. “The whole California cuisine thing was happening. Liz ended up working for two of the city’s most influential chefs at the time, while I was more self-taught and worked at several smaller San Francisco restaurants.”

Wiley returned to Ohio in the mid-1990s to cook, while Valenti returned to Chicago to finish her undergraduate degree at Northwestern in organizational behavior and earn an accounting certificate. She was cooking, catering, and doing accounting for Chicago restaurants when Meadowlark was about to expand in 2011. Wiley invited her to come to Ohio and manage the new space. A few years later, the two started Wheat Penny, where Valenti’s pasta-making and baking skills are showcased daily.

The Dayton community has embraced both spots – Meadowlark is less casual than Wheat Penny, which is more focused on homemade pizza and pastas – and thanks to Wiley’s English major, their menus “are the most verbose you’ve ever seen,” she joked. Valenti recently married her partner Ann, while Wiley is married to her longtime partner, Kristine, and both have settled with their families in nearby Yellow Springs, a ‘hippie town’ they love.

“Wiley and I are coming up on knowing each other for 40 years,” Valenti said. “My parents loved her, I loved her mom and consider her dad my dad – we are brutally honest with each other in ways that the oldest and dearest of friends can be. None of this would have been possible without Grinnell.”

— by Anne Stein '84

For your information:

To learn more about supporting Grinnell’s need-based scholarships, please contact the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 866-850-1846 or