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Big things for Bartertown

Though this week Bartertown Diner may be closed for renovations, there are big things on the horizon for the storefront at 6 Jefferson Avenue and its neighbors at Cult (Cvlt) Pizza, according to owner Ryan Cappeletti.

"…When we first built out Bartertown, we had a very tight budget, which we still have, but it's a little bit looser," he says. "Especially since we started working with Rockford [Construction Co.], who have been really great with putting a lot of work into the building and making the building actually stand out with its exterior." 

Cappeletti says Bartertown is about to sign a 10-year lease with the major construction and development company, including plans for renovations that will create open, interior archways that link Bartertown and Cult Pizza with a new juice bar called The Live Food Bar, tentatively slated for a January opening. 

"We're putting an archway all of the way through so that all three will be individual spaces, but accessible from the inside," Capeletti says. "We're building all of that out so people can come in and flow in and out of each space, but our goal is to have a different feeling in each space but still open to everybody."

Bartertown will also add a patio with seating for about 25 this spring, and Capeletti says they'll go before the Grand Rapids City Commission on Dec. 10 seeking approval for a new liquor license. 

"When we first opened Bartertown, I was hoping to see more young entrepreneurs," says Capeletti, who added that many of his friends are leaving Grand Rapids in favor of cities like Portland and Los Angeles. 

He says what makes Grand Rapids a difficult city for businesses like Bartertown isn't the community of customers, but the community of business owners who can, financially speaking, afford to overcome some of the obstacles Bartertown has faced as if they weren't obstacles at all.  

"Grand Rapids is a difficult city because it's run by people with a lot of money and things are really expensive," he says, comparing the $1,045 Grand Rapids fee for a liquor license with the $400 fee posted to Portland businesses. He says he hopes what they're doing on Jefferson Avenue proves to younger entrepreneurs that you don't have to be wealthy to bring your business to Grand Rapids.

"If you're determined and want to work at something, I'd like to see it as the catalyst for young entrepreneurs that don't have a lot of money to really be able to stay here and if they have a passion, make it happen."

Cappeletti, who opened both of the vegetarian-focused restaurants now operating as collectives, added that if the interior renovations go smoothly this week, Bartertown will re-open to customers on Sunday with a new and improved look. 

"This can still be a place for dreamers and people who want to rebuild neighborhoods," he says. "When we went there four years ago, we rented a space where we had no money and we just signed a lease and built it out from scratch. We really want to convey to people that Bartertown and Cvlt Pizza – we’re still the same, we’re doing the same thing – we don't want to be the best vegetarian restaurant in Grand Rapids, we want to be the best restaurant in Grand Rapids, and we want to do it from the ground up."

In the coming months, Cappeletti says Bartertown will most likely launch a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to help with fundraising for all of the upgrades ahead, but in the meantime, they have partnered with Cult Pizza to sell $200 punch cards equal in value to 30 meals. 

"It’s really important for us to let our customers know that we’re not big time people in the restaurant business, as far as money goes, so we really just depend on our clientele," he says. "If they want us here, it’s a way to show it."

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Bartertown & Cult Pizza
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