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Custer wraps up phase one of three in Grandville Ave. HQ renovation project

Furniture dealer Custer is known in its industry for over 30 years of innovative workplace design, so why not update its own corporate headquarters to show it? 

On the heels of completing the first in three phases of renovation at 217 Grandville Ave. SW, Chief Operations Officer Todd Custer says the remodel was inspired by the surrounding neighborhood, which has seen increasing new development in the past few years. 

"The area is becoming more of a retail location, more of a walking area, where traffic is getting a little bit heavier and they've done a good job of beautifying the street and the area around here so it's kind of up-and-coming," he says. "The entrance area and the windows...a lot of people are looking so we wanted to really show what we do and what we do well is that type of environment."

Renovations on Custer's 10,000-square-foot first floor started in late October of last year. Custer says the building was purchased by the furniture dealers in 2004, when they moved into the first and second floors and began leasing the third and fourth. 

New first floor features, including updated designs for a more flexible workplace, as well as more effective technology integration like high-definition video conference rooms and other audio-visual upgrades, are planned for phase two and three of the renovation on its second floor, as well. Phase two and three of the project are expected to begin later this month and final completion of the space will wrap up in early 2016. 

"We've got about 80 employees on the first and second (floors), but we've never really done anything from an infrastructure standpoint," Custer says. "A lot of our business is furniture but now it's also interior cabinetry and interior construction for custom applications, as well as a lot of technology integration and audio-visual solutions. We really didn't showcase a lot of the expertise we have and we wanted to really show that and do a better job of telling our story that way." 

The renovations are an effort to not only showcase the best and brightest of Custer's innovations, but also to provide a workspace for its employees that is based around an idea Custer calls "power of place." 

"It's the whole wellness aspect of your work environment and getting up and moving around and using different types of spaces and having alternative settings to go utilize, whether its more lounge type settings or sit-stand settings – it's all about mixing wellness into your space and providing an inspiring workplace." 

For more information about Custer, visit www.custeronline.com.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Custer 

Interphase Interiors joins Heartside with new Blue35 showroom

In Randy DeBoer's opinion, Grand Rapids' Heartside District is one of the "most beautiful examples of 'renewal' in downtown Grand Rapids." 

DeBoer is president of the modern workspace/furniture dealer Interphase Interiors, which announced the opening of a new showroom location on the first floor of 35 Oakes SW with plans for a May 7 grand opening celebration.  

As the exclusive dealer for innovative furniture makers at Haworth, Interphase Interiors partnered with Haworth and Rockford Development in the creation of the downtown Grand Rapids incubator hub, MoDiv, and DeBoer says after two years watching the space thrive, Interphase knew it wanted to increase its role as part of the city's creative community.

"In our two years' experience, being down there has really showed us, I think, the type of energy that can be infused into the organization by being able to have that downtown presence," he says. "It's certainly helped increase our brand presence downtown and we just enjoy that environment."  

Also known as the Blue35 building, the eight-floor showroom at 35 Oakes SW was originally built in 1914 as the former Mertens Hotel. In an effort to maintain some of the unique, original fixtures of the 1,600-square-foot ground floor, the new Interphase Interiors showroom features Mertens Hotel original mosaic tile floors. 

"For most people, it's the first thing that catches their eye," DeBoer says. "It's an incredible floor that you just can't find anywhere else." 

With LED lighting, a ceiling grid constructed from 2x4's and a wooden wall made from recycled Interphase Interior warehouse pallet boards, DeBoer says preserving the character of the building while still representing the modern style of the brand was an important part of renovation plans with GMB Architecture.   

"We were intrigued by the idea of the history behind the space and we wanted to preserve as much of the history as possible and it really led us to focus on creating as sustainable a space as possible," he says. "We wanted to utilize as much of the existing building while still being able to use it as an example of our modern work style we can show our customers." 

He says attention to detail and small but important touches, like private office enclaves and flexible workspaces, tie history and function together to create an office and a showroom that highlights the best of both. 

"It's almost a contrast in the sense that the space itself has a very urban-industrial feel, but a lot of the product that we put in there is probably some of the most modern, edgy products from Haworth," DeBoer says. "It's almost a contrast of eras that exist in that one small space." 

For more information on Interphase Interiors, visit www.interphaseinc.com. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Interphase Interiors

Related articles: 
Haworth, INterphase to open creative design showroom in Grand Rapids' new MoDiv retail incubator 

Studio Blue brings multi-use work, retail and showroom space to heart of Grand Rapids

VDS relocates to former Feyen Zylstra stomping grounds with revamped interior

When unified communication specialist VDS opened its doors for the very first time 26 years ago, it was at 201 Front Avenue as a division of the electrical contracting company Feyen Zylstra. 

Eventually, CEO James Kress purchased VDS from Feyen Zylstra and the division began operating independently, growing into a 60-person firm in a new location at 2350 Oak Industrial Drive NW. However, when Kress learned Feyen Zylstra had relocated and the Front Avenue space was open for occupancy, VDS jumped on the opportunity to relocate back to its old stomping grounds. 

"He (Kress) always loved downtown and when Feyen Zylstra outgrew this building he said, 'We have to go back,' and he loved the history of it," says VDS' Kim Schermer of the three-story, 14,000-square-foot building at 201 Front Avenue. 

VDS moved into the space in late November 2014 after Orion Construction completed a renovation of the interior, including a new entry way, common space, board room, executive offices, stairwells, bathroom and cabling for state-of-the-art technology-based systems. 

"It's a very interesting building on the inside but it's still got the old wood beams and everything, so it's a really cool building historically speaking," Schermer says of the 1930's riverfront property. "We opened up some of the walls to make it a more collaborative space. A lot of it was cosmetic, but we were careful to keep the historic pieces that were still intact."

VDS has collaborated with technology partners that include Microsoft, Polycom and Avaya through its 26-year tenure, offering technology-based solutions geared at helping companies collaborative more effectively and efficiently while achieving maximum engagement both internally and with the customers it serves. 
"The growth going on in the downtown area right now is just huge," Schermer says, "It's the place to be; we love it." 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction 

Related articles: 
Electrical firm Feyen Zylstra cclebrates new HQ expansion, renovation at former elementary school 

Shen Dojo Kickstarter campaign aims for $10,000 in 50 days to fund second floor build-out

After relocating from Grand Rapids' Heartside to a new space at 401 Hall St. SW one year ago, owner and instructor Dan Muschiana of the healing and martial arts studio Shen Dojo is looking toward community members to help build out his new location, hoping to raise $10,000 in 50 days through a new Kickstarter campaign

"It's always one of the challenges with start-up companies, needing some funding for growth and development into the next stages," says Muschiana, a Kendall College of Art & Design graduate who became interested in Japanese culture and the healing arts while working as a freelancer post-grad. 

"I actually learned a lot of my ability to understand education, healthcare, business, how to develop an idea and take it to fruition and how to stay focused on a project," he says. 

His plan is to use $5,000 of the $10,000 fundraising money to build out a second and third training area dedicated to community classes, public projects and one-on-one tutoring space. He also plans to equip the space with supplies for teachers and smaller tables for future Japanese language and calligraphy classes. 

Muschiana plans to invest $3,000 of the fundraising monies in new spring programs and workshops and to secure costs for the three new instructors he recently hired to lead courses at Shen Dojo.

"I've got three great new instructors from Grand Rapids and around the city with a lot of really amazing backgrounds that I think will help contribute to the team," he says. "I brought them on board so myself and another instructor who is involved with the dojo can create new programs centered around the healing arts." 

Shen Dojo's courses – which range from yoga and Tai Chi to Aikido, Uechi-Ryu Karate and Rinzai Zen Meditation – are taught with a larger notion of wellness behind each, an idea Muschiana has rallied around for a number of years while working as an instructor for wellness and healing programs in area hospitals.

With $1,000 of future fundraising money allocated for developing studies to advance local wellness initiatives for cancer patients in Grand Rapids, he says he hopes to increase his partnerships with community businesses in the medical field and beyond through meditation and healing techniques.

Muschiana points to studies done by Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, which show healthier employees involved in employee wellness programs not only pose less risk to insurance companies because of increased wellness overall, but also make up a more productive workforce and are able to provide a better level of care to patients, to boot. 

"Businesses willing to invest in their employees are going to see a really great long-term return on investment for some of these workshops," he says. "Those businesses that are innovative, willing to seek creative methods, get a little bit outside of the box in order to accomplish this and see more productivity are those that are really going to benefit, and those are the businesses I really want to connect with." 

Click here to donate to the Shen Dojo Kickstarter campaign, or find Shen Dojo on Facebook to learn more.

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Shen Dojo/Dan Muschiana

Media Place Partners celebrates 10th anniversary with office expansion and doubled business

As Media Place Partners celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, Principal Dave Kettler says the best is yet to come for the Grand Rapids media-services firm, which has doubled its business and created three new positions on staff in the past nine months already. 

"People are just finding out we're here and that we're local and have all the tools and the horsepower to handle anything they want to do," says Kettler, whose agency focuses on media consulting and strategic media planning and purchasing. "…We're leveraging our current clients to tell the story of Media Place and also over the years, we've developed a reputation for doing a good job for our clients."

To accommodate its growing team of media buying experts, MPP relocated to a larger office in Gaslight Village last October, recently expanding its floor space at 2249 Wealthy St. SE to around 1,000 square feet. 

Though MPP's clients are predominately in the markets of healthcare, grocery and higher education and operate on state- and national-level stages, Kettler says it's just as important to his agency to bring in local organizations as clients, with familiar names like Grand Rapids Ballet Co., the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Experience GR and Frederick Meijer Gardens on the list of those who have worked with the MPP team in the past.  

""People didn't know we we're here and we're local, so bigger buys would get moved to another town and then small- and medium-sized work didn't think they were big enough to take it to another market, but now we're doing a lot of that," Kettler says. 

He says for those medium-sized clients who don't have enough staff to manage media buys internally, having MPP manage buys from the outside allows businesses owners to focus their own company's manpower on growing their brand more efficiently and effectively. 

"It's really about time; giving people more time and the expertise on top of that to make their media dollars work faster," he says. 

He says his firm is strengthening the manpower of its own staff, looking ahead to building its next layer of employees with the addition of a few new account executives and eventually, another media buyer. Kettler says he hopes to have those new positions in place by the end of the second quarter. 

"I do think West Michigan is growing and we're filling a void that was here in the market," he says. "If we can keep it here local and service here local, everybody wins." 

For more information about Media Place Partners or careers there, visit www.mediaplacepartners.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Media Place Partners 

City Built Brewing Co. hopes to bring unique flavors to craft beer scene in GR

The first time Dave Petroelje made a batch of home-brewed beer for a larger crowd was at his sister's wedding. Since then, he's brewed and bottled for so many parties and weddings he can't keep track of them all. 

"Everyone always says, 'So when are you going to start selling stuff?' So that kind of put the idea in my head that I could go pro," says Petroelje, who started home brewing his own craft beer with roommates when he was still studying biology and geology at Calvin College. "…I decided might as well just make my own job." 

Petroelje, along with his friend of eight years and former neighbor Ed Collazo, is part of the team behind the recently announced City Built Brewing Co., which joined Harmony Brewing Co. last month for its Flower Power beer release party. 

"We're halfway to our fundraising goal, so we thought it was prudent to do an announcement that we're here," Petroelje says. "A lot of our friends have known for a while and I get asked by people all of the time how the brewery is coming along." 

The plan is to move into a 5,000-square-foot building in Monroe North, though Petroelje and Collazo aren't saying which quite yet due to some paperwork still waiting for final approval.  

However, when the funding gap is closed and the paperwork is official, he says City Built Brewing Co. will not only bring a much-needed dining option for those in the Monroe North neighborhood, but also bring a different taste sensibility to the craft beer market in Grand Rapids. 

Well read on his trade, Petroelje says craft beer's origins lie in the home-brewing movement, but over time many of those traditional styles have been replaced by mass-market, industrial type beers. 

"You go to pick any brewery, you're going to see IPA, pale ale, stout, porter – those are very ubiquitous in the craft beer theme," he says. "I'd like to do beers that are not necessarily British in origin, although we can't ignore that 40 percent of the craft beer market is IPA so we're going to have to respect the market in some ways and offer some hoppy beer."

So, with a unique beer list in place, City Built Brewing Co.'s owners are planning a Puerto Rican-inspired food menu - a nod to Collazo's family heritage and a robust pairing for the hybrid, off-beat flavors Petroelje plans to brew.

"There's only one restaurant in the neighborhood, really, at the moment, so we'll be another option for a neighborhood that does not currently have a brewery within walking distance," he says. 

To learn more about City Built Brewing Co. or to keep up with its progress toward opening day, visit the brewery here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of City Built Brewing Co.

New Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. is a 'nice and classy tattoo shop' for East Hills neighborhood

Walls painted in subtle, warm hues complement the dark wood paneling, floors and freshly painted copper-toned tin roofing inside the newly renovated 974 Cherry St. SE storefront, now home to Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co

"I've always liked the look of old, dark wood," says Gareth Hawkins, owner of and artist at the new East Hills tattoo parlor, which he opened just last week alongside fellow artists Ryan Stout and Matt Pike. "It's classy and comfy – those are probably the two descriptors I'd use for it." 

The old, classic parlor vibe that creates the shop's interior makes a lot of sense with the art on the walls, a style which the artists describe as "turn of the century, American tattooing" and "World War II, sailor-style tattoos with a hint of Japanese influence." 

Hawkins, who is an East Hills resident, says he started apprenticing in Grand Rapids about 15 years ago, working at various tattoo shops including Mos Eisley's and Wealthy Street Tattoos, among many others. 

"I decided that after 15 years of being in this, I'm not getting any younger," Hawkins says. "I love this neighborhood, I own a home in the East Hills area and so this place came open and it's all been kind of fortuitous." 

Since Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co.'s soft opening last week Tuesday, he says they've seen a pretty steady stream of clients come through for tattoos – thanks in part to faithful clients who followed them over to the new shop, but also because of the walkability of the area surrounding the storefront, which sits directly across from Grand Rapids' oldest restaurant Cherie Inn and the East Hills fixture Marie Catrib's. 

"I've been consistently tattooing every single day, which is fantastic for a new business," Hawkins says. "I've had a lot of clients follow me over, Ryan and Matt are the two guys who followed me over, too, they have a great client base, they're great artists and great people to work with so we've managed to have a steady stream of people coming in and new people coming in off the street. The traffic in this neighborhood is fantastic for walking."

Whether it's pre-drawn and selected from an artists' collection hung on the wall of the store's modest but cozy lobby or custom-made based on a specific concept or idea brought in by a customer, Hawkins says any ink done by Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. artists will be original, simple and timeless. 

"We're a nice and classy tattoo shop. We do solid, classy tattoos that will last you forever and that you'll be very happy with," he says. "We do good work."

To learn more about Sovereign Arms Tattoo Co. or stay updated on upcoming events for its opening, check the shop out on Facebook here.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Le Bon Macaron to bring a little bit of European charm to the already charming Cherry St. in May

After successfully launching her unique café in 2009 in East Lansing, owner and designer Kelly Toland of Le Bon Macaron is bringing her colorful, French-inspired pastries to East Hills. 

Set to open in May at 951 Cherry St. SE, Le Bon Macaron's new Grand Rapids location will replace the recently relocated furniture and home design retailer Hunt & Gather after its move to a shared space on Curve Street late last month. The new shop will share the space with Ginko Studios Floral Design. 

Toland says she always knew she would bring the business to Grand Rapids eventually, but was waiting patiently for the right location and the right timing to collide. 

"We've had our eye on the area for a few years; we liked going there for ourselves in general," says Toland, who has been a Grand Rapids resident since marrying her husband in 2012 and commutes to work in East Lansing each day. "The restaurant, the shops, it's a charming area and it has sort of a European feel to it with it being pedestrian and more historic."

Toland says other than bringing in the refrigeration case and other store fixtures specific to her product line, most of the remodeling continues to be largely cosmetic, with plans to finish painting the Cherry Street Le Bon Macaron's interior in the same color scheme as her East Lansing store – light greys, blushing pinks and creamy whites – and planning to tie up the French café look with bistro tables before the store's May opening. 

"I'm just excited to be a part of that community; it's a great group of small business owners," she says. "Everyone is very nice, we've met a lot of people and it's already like a family, so I think it will be great." 

Visit Le Bon Macaron online for more information about the East Lansing shop or find Le Bon Macaron on Facebook to stay updated on the progress of the upcoming Grand Rapids location. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Le Bon Macaron/Kelly Toland

GR staffing agency hopes new office space bolsters goal to change perception of industry by 2020

Just in time for winter to melt into spring, employees at Fettig watch from brand new 65-foot windows as the ice breaks up on the Grand River. That's the view from its newly remodeled 6,435-square-foot office space at 265 Leonard St. NW. 

A welcome change from its old offices in Cascade at 6151 28th Street SE, the 16-person staffing agency moved in about two weeks ago after working with Pinnacle Construction and Kentwood Office Furniture over the last four months to convert the 1960s-era space into a modern, collaborative workspace. 

"In the first couple weeks, I've noticed people using the space," says Mike Fettig, Vice President of Operations. "You're able to be a bit freer and move and not be confined to little spaces. I don't think people want to work in just one little chair anymore; there's a lot more flexibility." 

Fettig says the new space, designed to have an "industrial loft feel," has a lot of open seating near the large windows overlooking the Grand River, with a multi-purpose room that can be used as a large conference room space or a gathering space, complete with a couch, television and café-style seating. There are also open-style interview pods and a video training room. 

Another draw for Fettig is the proximity to Rapid bus lines, which it didn't have at its old location. 

"For the applicants coming in, I see their faces looking around and thinking, 'Wow, that looks really nice.' We care about our applicants and the people we're placing," Fettig says. "It partners well with our culture and now we have a space that reflects that."  

Fettig says this is the third time the company has expanded its office space since President Kim Fettig bought the agency and rebranded from its former name, Ameritemp Staffing, in 2007. He says Fettig has grown around 600 percent over the past eight years, hiring 450 people into full-time, permanent job positions over the last year. 

"I believe the reason for the growth has been our focus on finding the right people for our customers," Fettig says. "A lot of our industry has focused on filling those with temporary positions and not focusing on what is primarily temp-to-hire positions."

He says Fettig's goal is to change the perception of staffing agencies in West Michigan by 2020, and he thinks the agency is up to the challenge. 

"I want to change the perception of people who haven't wanted to work for staffing companies," he says. "I know we have good jobs and partner with good companies that care about people."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Fettig

Woosah looks to Kickstarter campaign to build out S. Division retail space and printshop

Erica Lang says she's been checking her Kickstarter campaign religiously since it went up earlier this month, knowing that in order to meet her $15,000 fundraising goal by April 4 and keep the nearly $8,000 currently in the campaign's bank , she'll have to raise the remainder over the next 15 days. 

"It's a lot of pressure," she says, but worth a shot for the Grand Rapids artist and Kendall College of Art & Design graduate, who will use the money to build out her new work-retail space at 131 S. Division Avenue, the future home of Woosah Outfitters & Printshop

"I've just kind of been outgrowing my current situation and just felt it in my gut that now is the time to take this next step," says Lang, who has done freelance work for Harmony Brewing Co., Patagonia and Finistene to name a few. "I'm really excited to bring printmaking to the everyday person. You don't have to go to college and take all of the classes and get a degree in printing to do it." 

Lang says since graduating last May, she's accumulated almost everything she needs for a print shop on her own, but still needs a little help raising the funds to build retail fixtures like clothing racks, tables and the check-out counter, as well as a separate room for inventory and shipping and a few materials for printmaking workshops she plans to hold there once the space is officially open. 

She's currently operating out of the community printshop Dinderbeck, but says she's already signed the lease for the 1,875-square-foot space on S. Division's Avenue for the Arts and is excited to be a part of a community that champions creativity as a lifestyle. 

"I think it's really cool to be within that community of people because we all have a similar passion in doing what we love for a living and educating others about the arts," she says. "It's really cool because that community is so active and is constantly hosting events to get more people to come downtown, which is also really good for that area of town because it's just now starting to become an area people feel comfortable walking around in and visiting the different stores." 

Pledges for Lang's Kickstarter campaign for Woosah Outfitters & Printshop range anywhere from $5 to $1,800 and can earn contributors a whole array of different combinations of Lang's product line, which are simple, nostalgic designs she says are inspired by Michigan's natural beauty, long hikes in Saugatuck and the "things in nature that make you realize how small you are, that kind of humble you; the overall feeling you get from those experiences and that excitement you get with a new adventure." 

To help Lang bring Woosah Outfitters & Printshop to Grand Rapids' Avenue for the Arts, donate to her Kickstarter campaign here before April 4. To learn more about Woosah Outfitters and see some of Lang's designs, visit www.spreadingthewoosah.com or find Woosah Outfitters here on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Erica Lang/Woosah Outtifters & Printshop

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Slow down, be present, connect with nature: That's Woosah 

Hunt & Gather brings modern-vintage feel to new retail-workspace in renovated warehouse

After celebrating with an open house reception that boasted foot traffic of over 350 people, Hunt & Gather has officially opened for business in a renovated warehouse space at 740 Curve St. SW. 

Kelley Howley is owner and interior designer at the "modern-vintage" inspired furniture retailer and shares Hunt & Gather's new 5,000-square-foot space with artist Jeff Kraus. The two are kicking up the collaborative workspace concept a notch to create a sort of retail-design-showroom-gallery hybrid that still has a clean and simple feeling, thanks to the pair's shared aesthetic sensibility.  

"When I was thinking of expanding, I knew I wanted to have more of a collaborative space, and he was one of the first people I thought of," Howley says, adding that she and Kraus signed the lease in November and did all of the renovations – which involved more than 100 sheets of drywall and dozens of gallons of paint – by themselves throughout January and February before it opened this month.

Howley says she started to think more seriously about moving from her Cherry Street storefront last summer, when she realized her growing customer base wasn't necessarily the people who stumbled into Hunt & Gather to browse, but rather a younger, more creatively-inclined demographic that used social media, in large part, to engage with her brand differently than before. 

"Obviously social media plays such a big role in businesses now, especially creative businesses," says Howley, who also used the transition between locations as an opportunity to set new store hours that essentially change Hunt & Gather's business model.

"For me, my biggest bottleneck with retail is time," she says. "My husband and I do everything ourselves – both retail and design – so everything else we have to do outside sales is after-hours."

For example, when she is working with a customer to find the perfect piece for their home and it ends up being in a Chicago storefront, Howley has to drive there and transport it back to her store without any major interruptions to her regular workday. So, in order to get those unique, one-of-a-kind furnishings that she knows her customers come to Hunt & Gather looking for, she can't be a full time salesperson - she had to embrace the designer, too. 

"If we were strictly a retail store, there's no reason we should have ever had to leave Cherry Street; it's a traditional shopping experience," she says. " But, because a big part of what we do is find items for customers, I just wanted to find a space that would better highlight our design services and…kind of use a new (business) model to give myself a little bit more time so I can provide a way better service for my customers because it means I'm out more, I'm shopping more, bringing more things back – instead of having one dresser available in the shop, you'll have five dressers available." 

Now, Hunt & Gather will be open Monday-Thursday by appointment only, with weekend hours for the retail space on Fridays from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. 

"We really wanted to set ourselves apart and be an actual brand," Howley says. "For us, we really wanted the space to be a clean canvas. I wanted it to be a place where I could have a blank slate each week to create new designs and do more of those behind-the-scenes things… I've been there for two months like every single day, but it didn't hit me until Sunday how beautiful it is and that it has come such a long way."

For more information, check out Hunt & Gather on Facebook or visit its website here

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Hunt & Gather

thePlate Boutique opens MoDiv retail space downtown with community-driven focus on food

When thePlate Boutique held its first full cooking class in February at its new downtown Grand Rapids location in MoDiv, owner Kati Mora says spots in the class sold out so quickly they decided to open up another class the same day. http://aroundtheplate.org/boutique/

"You never really know until you open what the response is going to be, but we've been really grateful for every person or every small business owner who comes in and is excited about what we're doing," Mora says. "We have been so happy with the responses we're getting. Our customer base continues to grow – we've seen an increase each month in returning customers."

Mora, who is the director of communications and owner of the umbrella brand Around the Plate, opened her first location for the nutrition-inspired kitchenware store thePlate Boutique in Mt. Pleasant, which received a nomination for Independent Kitchen Retailer of the Year in 2014 by Gourmet Retailer Magazine. 

A registered dietitian with a passion for her heath and nutrition, she says after years of working with individuals one-on-one and having conversations about issues surrounding healthy eating, she noticed one, reoccurring theme. 

"I thought if I could focus in on one thing and make a huge difference, it really was this idea of getting people into the kitchen, because that's where it begins," she says. 

With three registered dietitians on staff, Mora says her goal with thePlate Boutique is not only to offer customers affordable, unique, convenient kitchenware that make cooking more fun and engaging, but more importantly to build a community around the idea that spending time in the kitchen doesn't have to be a bad thing.

"I think time is a big issue for many people we work with or that come in and we have conversations with," she says. "Having the time to spend in the kitchen to make a healthy dish has been a real struggle for a lot of people. The other side of it too is usually cost; How do we reduce costs when making meals, how can we stretch that dollar? Time and cost are usually the biggest areas of concern." 

So, in addition to cooking classes and taste-maker events, thePlate Boutique holds in-store demos of new products every other Saturday and has created something called the "Inspiration Station," where customers can drop off old cookbooks they aren't using anymore or pick up a new one to try out along with recipe cards developed by boutique staff.  

"We really wanted to be able to start a little local hub where people could come in and get excited about spending time in their kitchen and hopefully start looking for ways to eat healthy," Mora says. "That's what we envision for our retail spaces — to not only have a thriving community, but also a healthy one, where people are excited about getting into their kitchens, maybe eating local food...but always emphasize the idea of finding ways to make nutrition interactive and fun."

To learn more about thePlate Boutique or its parent organization, Around the Plate, visit the Facebook page here or go to www.aroundtheplate.org, where you can also learn more about events hosted by thePlate Boutique and other local organizations in honor of March's National Nutrition Month.   

"Every person who comes in and chooses to shop with us - it's a huge deal," Mora says. "We know it's not the most convenient place to shop — we're small and we're still growing — so we want all of our customers to feel like guests and feel they're appreciated, because they are."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Around the Plate, LLC. 

Downtown Market scores second full-service restaurant with Social Kitchen

After enormous success in 2012 opening his first location in Birmingham, near Detroit, Zack Sklar has announced the opening of a second Social Kitchen & Bar at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, expected to create anywhere between 50-70 full-time and 100 part-time jobs between the restaurant and its catering company, Cutting Edge Cuisine. 

"There's this contagious excitement and pride that's so undeniable, at Downtown Market and in Grand Rapids both," Sklar said. "It's the vendors. It's the pride in the city. It's the growth that's happened in the last decade. This is such a great space to be a part of, but the community of people is what really sold me, and sold us as a company." 

Social Kitchen & Bar is touted as accessible, everyday comfort food and is not the first brand under Sklar's past ventures, which include the Mexican restaurant & tequila bar Mex in Birmingham and Beau's in Bloomfield. 

"With Social coming to Grand Rapids, it's the first time I've expanded an already successful concept," Sklar says. "But now we're doing it with so much more structure and intention than we did the first time. I'm so excited to do this, because I think it’s really going to take off. We're going to hit the ground running in a way we didn't the first time. This is a first for us, even though it's not our first restaurant or our first Social. So it's going to be cool and unique."

Construction on the Social Kitchen & Bar will begin this summer, with the restaurant expected to open to the public in August. 

For more information, visit www.downtownmarketgr.com.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Zack Sklar

How a Start Garden grows

On the second floor of the historic Trust Building in downtown Grand Rapids, Start Garden's Director of Marketing and Communications, Paul Moore, points to the sunlit space near the windows in the front room and jokes that they plan to treat the barstool tables like beachfront property – designated shared workspace belonging to no specific startup habitating the venture fund's new "Start Garden Village" neighborhood on Pearl Avenue. 

"We got the point where it was getting really, really cumbersome to try and keep up with what was going on with the companies we were funding, because they're all kind of working in silos around the city," Moore says about the move from its old offices at 50 Ionia Avenue. "

Moore says the idea behind Start Garden Village isn't to create another collaborative workspace, but rather, a new piece of infrastructure lacking in Grand Rapids until now – a central hub for startups and entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they're funded by Start Garden, to come and share ideas, find investors and accelerate company growth

Though it has already been equipped with its own "neighborhood café," single-desk workspaces, conference rooms and private phone booths, the new hub will soon see the installation of "work pods," which Moore says were designed quite literally from the row-house concept. Right now, he added, the space has room for at least 100 people. 

Raising the stakes
The expansion is just one part of Start Garden's re-envisioning of its role in the West Michigan startup scene, which also includes an upgraded fund with the capacity to boost investment in growing companies up to $1.5 million, a significant increase from its previous $500,000 funding cap. 

"Here is where we've been, helping these companies figure out what they're not," Moore says. "In a certain way we're almost queuing them up to leave. At this point where a company would say, 'We don't need $500,000, we need $5 million,' the answer has been, 'Okay, go to the coast?' We didn't incubate all of these companies so they could come here and leave."

As far as investment in new business ideas go, Moore says two years ago it seemed like the biggest thing West Michigan needed was more experimentation and risk taking, and that's where Start Garden came in. Founded by Rick DeVos in 2012, Start Garden's initial goal was to find startups in their infancy, the very first project stage, and invest actual money. However, as those startups grew into companies with solidified visions, Moore says Start Garden found more and more that these new companies didn't need help growing their vision; they needed help growing their brand. 

"Now, two or three years later a lot of these 'projects' have grown into people who have left their day jobs to bring in new team members, co-founders, maybe even employees," he says. "They're actually working full-time at going from being projects to becoming companies that will hopefully grow quickly into something other people want to buy."

The New 5x5 Night
Though Start Garden will continue to invest smaller amounts in the $20-30,000 range in younger start-ups, they've handed over weekly investing to Emerge West Michigan, who is retooling the monthly pitch night and $5,000 reward into a member-based crowdfunding platform model. 

Now, grant funding for startups will be pooled from members' contributions and members will be allowed to become part of the judging process. 

"(Emerge) is actually writing checks, which is a big deal to us," Moore says. "You can launch an educational program for startups, but if they can't get funding to run, there's not a whole lot of application of the education they're getting. So Emerge is definitely getting into writing checks and it's also diversifying not only the investors that we've brought in over here, but also the city – where can people go when they have an idea, who can they talk to and how can they raise funds?' 

Onward & Upward
Moore says much like the companies who will now have funds to help mature past the project phase, Start Garden itself is using the transition into a new space and new funding model to make its own leap into adulthood – it's growing up. 

"Just as much as financial capital, we like to invest in intellectual and social capital. Building on to this space is almost entirely about intellectual and social capital investment," he says. "We want them to learn faster and meet new investors and new entrepreneurs and better entrepreneurs and get to know them on a much more relational level, so it seemed like we needed a place to actually house that kind of stuff." 

So, as more companies come to West Michigan to invest in the garden of startups they've grown here, Moore says a little bit of competition is exactly what they're waiting for. 

"If we were actually fighting to get into a deal on a company in the region, that would be awesome," he says. "That would be so great. It would mean the entrepreneurs have a lot of options for funding, but it would also mean that there are some really aggressive investors in the area and I think that it's kind of virtuous cycle. If you have a very large group of aggressive investors, you'll have a large group of aggressive entrepreneurs trying to get in on that funding." 

"I think the deals and the startups and the options only get better with more funding." 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Start Garden to triple its downtown footprint to serve more startups

Rick DeVos shares how Start Garden is pruning its funding model

Start Garden's downtown HQ to open this week

Introducing Start Garden

Start Garden opens idea, mentoring space in downtown Grand Rapids

CityFlatsHotel adds second event location to its brand

In the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, CityFlatsHotel is adding another event space at the former Louis Benton Steakhouse at 77 Monroe Center St. NW near its existing Ballroom @ CityFlatsHotel. 

"Since we opened the ballroom in 2012, we’ve had tremendous success and really positive feedback," says Jack Peaphone, Marketing Coordinator. "We have our guests booked well in advance. There are only so many days people are looking to book space and we really hated having to turn people away, so when the space became available, we jumped on the chance to add more rooms so we can kind of continue that success and able to provide more guests with more rooms." 

The new space will be a 13,000-square-foot space with a larger room for events and two smaller meeting spaces intended for about 20 people each. 

Although it's difficult to design the interior of Events @CityFlatsHotel with the same historic feel as the Ballroom @CityFlatsHotel, the former Michigan National Bank located next to its main hotel building at 83 Monroe Ave. NW, Peaphone says the new digs will be consistent with the rest of the CityFlatsHotel brand. 

"The ballroom definitely has its own look and feel. We renovated that from a 1920-1930’s era bank, so we obviously can’t replicate that look," he says. "However, we’ll still have full-service catering available for all of the new rooms and all of the same audio-visual equipment - we'll just have more to offer our clients by way of how many bookings we can fit." 

The boutique hotel has also announced the addition of a new "blowdry bar", which will be staffed with trained hairstylists under the CityFlats brand and offer blowout and salon services to both guests and residents in the area. 

"We’re still working on the design of that, but we’ll basically have a blow-dry bar; you’ll be able to get blowouts, but other salon services will also be available," Peaphone says. "We’ll have make-up and lashes and we’ll also do cuts and colors, as well as manicures."

He says there are no concrete numbers on how many jobs the two new spaces will create quite yet, but knows they will be hiring for numerous open positions within both the salon and the event space. In the meantime, CityFlatsHotel is working with its parent company Charter House Innovations to begin renovations on the former Louis Benton Steakhouse, with the expansion slated for completion this summer. 

We think it’s a great option for the downtown area because of how centrally located we are," Peaphone says. "Not only will it be great for guests of the hotel who are there for events to be able to get services at the blow-dry bar or take over some of our meeting space, but also really the walkability of the location. It’s great for anyone living or working downtown or working, to be able to get appointments and come in and get these services."

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of CityFlatsHotel

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CityFlatsHotel opens modernized 1920s ballroom, event space in downtown Grand Rapids
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