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Tiny Chai Boutique in downtown Grand Rapids bursts with new, vintage fashions, jewelry

It's not much bigger than a walk-in closet, but Sarah Ables aims to have Chai Boutique become a women's go-to store for more than just the fashions and jewelry that adorn the glass walls and vintage tables.

At just under 200 square feet in downtown's new Shops at Monroe Center and Division (MoDiv, 40 Monroe Center), Chai Boutique also offers vintage painted furniture finds, gift items, hair accessories and more. Surrounded by glass walls that let in daylight and allow shoppers to see through to nearby shops, Chai Boutique feels open, yet cozy.

Ables launched the business in February in a 900-square-foot space at 1120 Knapp St. NE, but struggled with having to order merchandise just to fill the racks. In the smaller MoDiv space, Ables says she can order very small quantities of items, which allows her to keep the store new and fresh as items sell and new merchandise arrives.

"I only buy about six of any clothing item, then when it's gone I order something new so I don't have everybody walking around Grand Rapids wearing the same thing," Ables says. "And I have budget-friendly prices; I don't have what people usually think of as boutique prices."

Ables offers a number of locally crafted items, such as Britteny Young's magnets and coasters decorated with illustrations from vintage books, and jewelry that combines new and vintage pieces collected and re-set by mother/daughter team Dawn Orr and Jen Bumstead.

"I'm loving the concept of MoDiv and that I have a smaller space," says Ables, who spent 12 years as a visual merchandiser for Art Van and sold her own painted antique furniture at Blue Door Home Design. "It was my dream to own a shop for as long as I can remember. I'd like to grow it right downtown where we are and grow the MoDiv location."

Hours: Mon., Weds., Fri., Sat. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tues., Thurs., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Source: Sarah Ables, Chai Boutique
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Fusionary revamps Hopson Flats' game room into an upscale HQ on Grand Rapids' SW side

Steve and Bryan Lewis unintentionally wore identical shirts to work on Monday -- part of an identical-twin-mind-link the brothers share. That connection is what stirred them to found Fusionary Media in 1995. They brought on a third partner, Jack Baty, and now the 13-person multi-media corporation has moved into a newly renovated urban loft at 220 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids.

The new digs used to be the game room at Hopson Flats, a student housing building next door. The game room was underused, so Fusionary jumped at the opportunity to renovate it to fit its employees' collaborative work style and moved from 820 Monroe North last Friday.

"We added a horseshoe shaped mezzanine along three walls which has three private offices, a catwalk, and a secondary meeting space with a Steelcase Walkstation, seating area and a TV," says Steve Lewis. "We also installed a spiral staircase, which will soon have a slide that wraps the outside edge of the staircase."

The mezzanine overlooks an open main floor work area with a combination of individual workspaces and a comfy media area with a projector for team collaborations and meetings. The layout includes a glass-walled conference room and a full kitchen/cafeteria space for employees.

Lewis says the huge projection screen, televisions and Apple TV will make it easy to present work to clients. He says the space also provides enough room to host web developers groups and other events.

"We looked at probably 30 different spaces," Lewis says, "and this side of town has done what we thought the north side of town would do. We gave up free parking, but there's so much more energy here being right across from Founders and next door to The Rapid. I think this new space is revitalizing us."

Design: Fuller Design
Construction management: Fusion Properties

Source: Steve Lewis, Fusionary
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos: Jack Baty

Smitty's Specialty Beverage rebuilds, nearly doubles craft beer offerings in Grand Rapids' Eastown

The term "Closed for Remodeling" took on new meaning in September when Smitty's Specialty Beverage locked its doors for the demolition of all but the two front walls of its building. But come about Nov. 11, an all-new Smitty's (1489 Lake Dr. SE) will reopen for business with more than twice the store space within the same footprint.

Founder Joel "Smitty" Smitter, who owns the business with son Jared Smitter, says the previous 900-square-foot store was a retail expansion added in 1920 to the front of an 1890s house. Smitter has owned the building since 1982. The house, which served as storage/office/warehouse space, and all but the two walls along Lake Dr. and Hampton SE, were demolished and replaced with a 2,000-square-foot modern store.

"The house foundation was 3.5 feet above the store floor so we had four steps to go up and down," Smitter says. "Now everything is on one level and we have a monster walk-in beer den cooler for the customer to shop in, which will have 400 craft style beers."

Smitter says the craft beer offerings will include every craft beer made in Michigan, hiking the selection from the previous 250 beers to 400.

Other changes include a nine-door cooler for juices, sodas and dairy products, and moving all the liquor fifths and half-gallons from behind the counter to the sales floor. "(The liquor section) will wrap around the front and west walls," he says. "You'll be amazed at our selection because you could never see it before."

Smitter says he's also going to offer fresh produce, as per customer request. If he can sell enough to break even after six months, he'll continue offering it.

Bamboo flooring, cherry laminate and granite countertops round out the new look. Upstairs, a new two-bedroom, two-bath condominium is under construction, where Smitter will live.

Smitty's will have a grand re-opening celebration in early summer 2012.

Construction manager, design: Pioneer Construction.

Source: Joel "Smitty" Smitter, Smitty's Specialty Beverage
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Developers say restaurant, office tenants to occupy renovated JA Building, Grand Rapids

Thousands of people got to experience the cavernous depths of the former Junior Achievement Building in downtown Grand Rapids during the Site:Lab art installations there last April and again this fall during ArtPrize.

The wide open spaces of the iconic building (southeast corner of Fulton St. and Division Avenue), its 12- to 16-foot-high ceilings and concrete floors on all three levels, are all part of the building's appeal to Locus Development owners John Green and Andy Winkel. Green says the planned $4M renovation could bring the neighborhood new office tenants and a "locally-owned restaurant not currently in the downtown."

Green says they are in negotiations with an American food restaurant to occupy some 4,500 square feet of the 7,500-square-foot main level, but stopped short of naming names. Green says talks are also underway with a potential office tenant for 5,500 square feet of the second story, and Locus looks to fill some of the remaining 12,500 square feet, which includes an underground level, with an arts-related organization and an entertainment venue.

"This is the gateway to the Avenue for the Arts, a highly visible building that's been neglected for a number of years," Green says. "There's a lot of activity along South Division and there continues to be several buildings in redevelopment along Division. This is a critical redevelopment, being right on that corner."

"We're always thinking about improving an eyesore that's been there a long time and how to use it to leverage further development on Fulton and Division," says Winkel.

The renovation could begin in early 2012, driven by LEED sustainability guidelines. Green and Winkel envision a new streetscape and historically accurate façade repairs.

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority awarded the project a $65,000 Building Reuse Incentives Program (BRIP) grant, a $35,000 Areaway Fill Incentives Program grant and about $140,000 in TIF credits.

Click here to visit the Facebook page for 2 East Fulton to weigh in on how you'd like to see the building used.

Construction manager: Pioneer Construction
Architect: TowerPinkster and Visbeen Associates

Source: John Green and Andy Winkel, Locus Development
Photographs: Nate Umstead Photography
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Rose Colored Glasses puts positive spin on women's, girls' resale on Grand Rapids' West Side

A building on Grand Rapids' West Side known as the "old pawn shop" is now recycling used possessions to a new crowd of customers: women and girls. Rose Colored Glasses brings fashion resale to a cozy 700-square-foot boutique at 827 W. Fulton St.

The store's tag line, "a resale shop for girls of all ages," invites shoppers into a welcoming atmosphere filled with trendy clothing and one-of-a-kind wearables in sizes ranging from girls' 14 to women's plus.

"The store's name comes from the Faulkner novel "A Rose for Emily," about an old lady who saw things only through a positive light," says owner Kathleen Wojtowicz. "So I named my daughter Emily Rose, and I thought the positive meaning of Rose Colored Glasses would be a great name for a shop for women.

"We have some vintage, some retro," she says. "I collect the fashions myself and have buyers working for me in the community, but the bulk of our clothing I buy from my customers."

Shoppers will find shoes, purses, belts, scarves, "scarves are one of our specialties," says Wojtowicz. Costume and vintage jewelry pieces include pins and necklaces of sparkling rhinestones, and even clip-on earrings.

Rose Colored Glasses offers a variety of new and upcycled items made by local artists: stained glass necklaces and wall hangings by Karen Kennedy Thoms, vintage pillowcases fashioned into unique skirts by Candice Norcross and skirts Sherie Armstrong embellishes with used neckties.

"I'm a third generation West Sider and I have a lot of interest in the growth of the West Side," says Wojtowicz. "The newer businesses coming in are taking cues from the success of Wealthy Street and other places around Grand Rapids. We want that walkability. Our forefathers had vision and wanted things to grow on the West Side, and I'm playing a very small part to make it happen."
Store hours: Tues. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Weds. 11 to 3; Thurs. and Fri. 11 to 7; Sat. 11 to 5. Visit the store's website here.

Source: Kathleen Wojtowicz, Rose Colored Glasses
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

GR8 Tastes tempts Grand Rapids' sweet tooth with tasty cake balls, chocolate and coffee

Cake balls are better known down south then they are in Michigan, but a new sweets shop in Grand Rapids' Creston business district is out to change that.

GR8 Tastes (1503 Plainfield Ave. NE), formerly Brittany Café, specializes in cake balls: crumbled cake mixed with flavored syrups or frosting, formed into balls about the size of donut holes, then dipped in dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate.

"A cake ball is a decadent cake confection," says GR8 Tastes owner Trish Hollemans. She and partners Donelle Bentley and Corinne Felt opened the shop three weeks ago. "We always carry chocolate truffle made with chocolate cake and golden delight made with yellow cake. We can create custom orders and add Irish crème syrup, pumpkin, cherries, cheesecake -- just about anything you can think of, we can make into a cake ball."

Hollemans says the cake balls are filling, so the shop also offers a smaller petite size, which is available singly or in a petite gift box containing four cake balls of four different flavors. Hollemans says the gift boxes are popular as wedding favors. The shop also does special orders for meetings and offers a shippable gift tin.

Customers can order in person, via phone or on the GR8 Tastes website.

GR8 Tastes also sells chocolate-covered pretzels and caramels, as well as a variety of coffee drinks. Patrons can get everything to go, or sit and enjoy the goodies at one of the shop's four tables while checking out the décor of antique cameras and photos of Grand Rapids, taken by co-owner Corinne Felt, an avid photographer.

The shop's core hours are Mon. - Fri., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with later hours on Weds. and Fri. For more information, visit the web site here or call (616) 447-7599.

Source: Trish Hollemans, GR8 Tastes
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Vacant warehouse, hotel now 45 apartments as Grand Rapids' Division Park Avenue, Serrano Lofts open

Three historic buildings that were showing their age are now 45 apartments and lofts, bringing a host of urban living and live/work options to Grand Rapids' S. Division Avenue.

The Palatine Building (c. 1911) at 209 S. Division was originally a rooming house for furniture buyers. Developer Brookstone Capital combined the building with 217 S. Division (c. 1888) to create the 47,000-square-foot Division Park Avenue Apartments, a 30-unit building with six live/work apartments along S. Division.

"The live/work spaces are two-story units," says Aaron Jonker, construction project manager with Wolverine Building Group. "The building was cut up into small rooms and had a lot of water damage. We were able to save a couple of historic walls, a couple of stairwells were restored in-place and we restored a three-story atrium with skylights. A huge mirror from the atrium was removed and restored offsite, then re-hung."

Around the corner at 17 Williams St. SW, a former four-story warehouse (c. 1917) now offers 15 one- and two-bedroom urban loft units under the name Serrano Lofts.

Both projects expect to attain LEED Gold certification, states Wolverine Building Group in a recent press release. Some of the sustainable features include indoor bike storage, LED lighting in all common areas, a reflective roof, high efficiency windows and recycling areas for tenants. All apartments have electronic keyless entry.

Federal Historic Tax Credits, Michigan State Historic Tax Credits, MSHDA Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Brownfield Tax Credits combined with other financing options to fund the projects.

An open house for both projects will be Friday and Saturday, Oct. 21 and 22 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact Kristine Hibbard at 616-643-8500 or visit www.livedowntowngrandrapids.com for leasing information.

Architect: Concept Design Studio
Historic consultant: Past Perfect
Sustainability consultant: Catalyst Partners

Source: Aaron Jonker and Wolverine Building Group
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Goodwill, YMCA team up to offer healthy menu at new GW2 Café in downtown Grand Rapids

You've had a great workout during your lunch hour and you'd like to grab a bite of something healthy to take back to the office.

The folks at the new GW2 Café in the David D. Hunting YMCA lobby (475 Lake Michigan Dr. NW) have just the thing: fresh sandwiches and wraps, fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, salads, coffee drinks and more -- all made with the health-conscious customer in mind.

Goodwill Industries and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids teamed up to remake an existing café into a convenient fueling-up spot for Y members and folks who just want to stop in for a bite. Goodwill, whose mission is to provide job training and placement for individuals with barriers to employment, will use the café as a final training ground for its hospitality services program.

"Last year, we trained about 30 people in hospitality services. The partnership with the Y will enable us to train above and beyond that number," says Goodwill's Communications Officer Jill Wallace. "They'll learn food prep, get certified in the ServSafe Food Handler Program and learn to work with customers, all at our kitchen on Sheldon (72 Sheldon Blvd. SE). They work their way up and then they can go out to the public training at our CrossTown Deli Café in The Rapid station and now at GW2 Café at the YMCA."

Proceeds from the café with help fund Goodwill's 20-plus job training programs, says Wallace. She adds that in 2010, Goodwill's job training programs placed 1,300 people in jobs throughout the eight counties the organization serves: Kent, Claire, Gladwin, Ionia, Isabella, Mecosta, Montcalm and Osceola.  

GW2 Café opened October 10. Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Source: Jill Wallace, Goodwill Industries
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Vue Design brings custom-designed bridal wear to Center City in Grand Rapids' MoDiv incubator

After two years of operating out of her Ada home, bridal fashion designer/creator Shannon Gales decided to bring her custom bridal creations to the heart of Grand Rapids. So last Friday, she opened her first Vue Design retail showroom and studio in the Shops at Monroe Center and Division, known as MoDiv (40 Monroe Center).

Gales, 44, began sewing at age 10. She spent 23 years in the corporate fashion design industry and then stepped out on her own two years ago with Vue Design. Now she finds herself in a temporary 200-square-foot space at MoDiv -- a space she'll leave within the month to walk her creations down the aisle to a boutique space twice the size.

"I have examples of some of the work we've done, a few boleros and ready-made bridal gowns, handbags," Gales says. "The larger shop will be a working design studio with sewing machines where customers can observe us working. We'll also have a showroom of examples and ready-to-purchase items, a consultation room with fabric samples and a changing room."

The "we" Gales refers to includes two student interns from Calvin College's art program. Calvin doesn't offer a fashion design course, says Gales, "So this allows students interested in fashion to experience it in a working studio." She adds that she'll be adding two more interns soon.

The custom bridal gown design experience begins with Gales learning the bride's dreams for her wedding day. She works with the bride's body type to design the most flattering gown, even helping the bride learn what styles look best by fitting her with prototype skirts, bodices and sleeves.

During the design process, dress mockups are fitted to the bride and then the dress is created. The process can take as much time or as little time as the bride wants, Gales says.

Gales says the gowns typically start at about $1,200, but she says she never wants a bride to be deterred by price and can design simpler gowns to fit a more limited budget.

Source: Shannon Gales, Vue Design
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Jenison Public Schools to break ground on $17M performing arts center for entire community

Jenison Public Schools will break ground next year on a proposed $17M performing arts center that will be available to the whole city for live performances and concerts. The 9,000-square-foot facility will be a stand-alone structure that will replace the current administration building on the Jenison High School property at Bauer Road and 20th Avenue.

The project, funded through a complicated combination of a voter-approved bond plus state and federal monies, will include a 1,200-seat performance auditorium, a costume shop, a scene-building shop, school administrative offices and event/convention space.

"This will be a true community performing arts center with a music hall that will transform into a theatrical performing area," says JPS Superintendent Tom TenBrink. "Each of our schools will be able to have all their performances at the center, instead of traveling to various churches [like they have to now].We'll also get the community involved by bringing in performances that will appeal to senior citizens, and bringing in concert performers and dinner theaters."

"It's architecturally very modern and different than any other building on the campus, which will make it very striking," says Mitch Watt, president of Triangle Associates, the project construction manager. "Jenison schools don’t have a facility that allows them to bring in large groups for performances or to bring in professional groups. This will allow them to schedule performances year-round, creating a really good resource for the community."

Demolition of the current administration building begins in February 2012; construction starts in March. TenBrink expects the project to be finished in time for the schools to host their Christmas holiday concerts there in December 2013.

"In Jenison, the center of our community is our schools," TenBrink says. "We don’t really have a downtown, people move here for the schools. We needed to build a facility that will draw people to the community. Eight years ago, we had one percent poverty level in homes with school age children and it’s over 30 percent now. The bottom line is the Jenison community took a step of faith to invest in our kids’ future and passed the bond proposal."

Architect: URS Corporation

Source: Tom TenBrink, Jenison Public Schools; Mitch Watt, Jeff Jelke, Scott Jernberg, Anne Rothwell, Triangle Associates
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Grand Rapids' Sofia Bella Couture adds infants, girls clothing to shopping options at MoDiv

For shoppers looking for hip infant and young girls clothing that's a bit off-the-wall instead of off the rack, a new specialty shop in downtown Grand Rapids' MoDiv is the right place.

Sofia Bella Couture, a cozy 400-square-foot boutique in the Shops at Monroe Center and Division (MoDiv, 40 Monroe Center), offers delightful clothing, onesies, bibs, hats and more in bright fabrics and animal prints -- many sporting a healthy dose of frills and bling.

Owner Brandice Labadie, 28, named her new venture after her eight-month-old daughter, Sofia, who she says is the inspiration for the shop.

"When I went shopping for her, I couldn't find anything I liked," Labadie says. "I wanted girlie, and tutus, but it didn't matter what store I went to, it was the same prints, same cuts, same styles."

Labadie says she's offering fabrics that are "a little edgier than the typical fabrics for girls," for instance, "the rocker-chic look with pink guitars, and skulls and crossbones with hot pink bows."

Some of her products are ready-made and some she designs herself. Other items Labadie upcycles by adding embellishments to ready-made items, like the cute piggy banks that she adorned, adding earrings to one, a flower halo to another, and glittery hot pink crystals to another.

Other items include "cupcake" hats with "sprinkles" and a cherry, zebra-print crib shoes and baby bottle holders shaped like cats, dogs and frogs.

"I'm working on our own clothing line, and have samples in the store that can be custom ordered from size newborn up to a girls' size 10," Labadie says.

The line features fun styles: long pants with ruffles, and layered skirts that resemble flouncy petticoats. Peasant tops and an entire line of Christmas and holiday wear will be out soon, Labadie says.

Store hours:
Mon., Tues., Weds., Fri. - 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thurs. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
Sat. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Source: Brandice Labadie, Sofia Bella Couture
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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HyperOptik aims to bring a new kind of spectacle to Grand Rapids' Wealthy St.

Funky, urban and eclectic are the words Christopher Conens uses to describe the trendy eyewear he and his dad Rob Conens and business partner Daryl Kamp will soon offer at their proposed HyperOptik Spectacle Studio at 1134 Wealthy St. SE.

But the shop is more than just a store -- it's also a finish lab for custom-grinding prescription lenses and a photo studio where Rob Conens, an avid portrait photographer, will photograph customer "models" wearing their new eyewear.

"Rob has always done the portrait work for the ad campaigns for our other store, Cascade Optical, but we've always set up a temporary photo studio," says Christopher Conens. "Now we'll be able to photograph every customer who wants to be part of our ads. Over the years, we've found that far more people want to do it than don't want to."

Cascade Optical has brought high-end eyewear to Grand Rapids patrons for 17 years and Christopher says he and Rob have envisioned an urban store for the past five years or so. He says the 1,200-square-foot location one door east of Wealthy Theatre is the perfect spot.

"We've found that the urban pockets of Grand Rapids are just incredible renaissance zones of energy, with more people moving there and a younger generation with a strong community spirit," Conens says.

"HyperOptik will offer less expensive and funkier eyewear than we have in Cascade," he says. "We already work with a number of artists and very creative colorful customers, and we wanted more of a presence in an urban environment, something a little more dynamic."

The store's product brands include l.a.Eyeworks, Booth & Bruce, X-I-T and Cutler & Gross. The shop will offer retail only, and will not have optometrists onsite.

Conens expects the shop will open in mid-October.

Source: Christopher Conens, HyperOptik Spectacle Studio
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

City approves proposed $27M Grand Rapids Urban Market for next step, could see early 2013 opening

Despite concern over the question of adequate parking, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission approved the requested liquor licenses and site plans for the proposed $27M Grand Rapids Urban Market with the condition that a parking management plan be submitted and approved.

The market, a project led by Grand Action, the group behind development of the Van Andel Arena and DeVos Place, will cover most of a city block at 435 Ionia Avenue SW and 109 Logan St. SW. It could be the first major project to extend the downtown shopping district south of Wealthy St.

The 3.5-acre site, bounded by Wealthy (north), Ionia (east), Logan (south) and US-131 (west), is the former home of the Sonneveldt Produce Company with six worn out warehouses that will be demolished in November.

The vision is to replace them with a 130,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor market that could include eateries, a brewpub, a retail incubator, a rooftop greenhouse, meeting space, office space and two commercial kitchens -- one for culinary education purposes and one to serve as an incubator for fledgling food-production businesses.

All of this is contingent on enough parking space onsite, or a viable parking plan that will accommodate peak shopping periods and increased traffic, says the Planning Commission. Requirements are 318 spaces onsite; plans thus far have just 200 spaces onsite, plus on-street parking. The expectation is that many shoppers will come by bus, the proposed Bus Rapid Transit which could be running by 2014, and by bicycle. Construction can begin once a parking plan is approved. Completion of the project could be spring 2013.

The property is owned by the Downtown Development Authority, which will lease it for 99 years to a corporate entity created by Grand Action, says Jay Fowler, DDA executive director. Fowler says the city “plans to reconstruct Ionia, Logan and McConnell streets over the next two years to greatly improve adequate access to the market and to Acme Insulations (100 Logan St. SW), and to separate the antiquated storm water and sanitary sewers.”

Architects: Design Plus and New Jersey-based Hugh Boyd.

Source: Sept. 22 Planning Commission meeting; Jay Fowler, Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority;
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Elk Brewing to brew up beers, ciders, meads in former restaurant on Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Street

Eric and Lisa Karns have big plans to bring a small brewpub to life on Grand Rapids’ Southeast side, and they got the go-ahead from the Grand Rapids Planning Commission on Sept. 22 to pursue state approval for the liquor license.

Elk Brewing will transform the former Southern Fish Fry building on the corner of Wealthy St. SE and Henry St. SE into an 80-seat microbrewery/pub with an 80-seat outdoor patio along Henry St. The brewpub will be allowed to sell its wares onsite only. Eric Karns, a veteran homebrewer, will head up the brewing team and has plans to offer patrons site-made specialties beyond beer.

“We’ll start out brewing ciders, meads and beers,” Eric Karns says. “We want to have seven to eight beers on tap. Brewing beer is the only thing I’ve really loved doing. We’ll be getting a 100-gallon brewing system and will do construction over the winter, with an opening sometime next year.”

The pub will also offer a selection of wines, but will not sell hard liquor.

Planning Commission also approved a 40-square-foot addition to the Wealthy St. side of the building, which will incorporate a glass façade. The Grand Rapids Historic Preservation Commission approved conceptual plans on March 17, 2010.

The Karns have worked out preliminary agreements with nearby restaurants including The Winchester, Johnny B’z Dogs and More and Wealthy Street Bakery to provide their menus and a delivery service for patrons of Elk Brewing, says Karns.

Design: Lott3Metz Architecture

Source: Eric Karns, Elk Brewing; Greg Metz, Lott3Metz Architecture
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Uptown Kitchen invests Grand Rapids 5x5 winnings in licensed public commercial kitchen in Eastown

Kelly LeCoy is busy these days. She’s working a fulltime job at Steelcase and developing Uptown Kitchen, a licensed commercial kitchen and event space in Grand Rapids’ Eastown business district. This shared-use kitchen will be available for lease to fledgling and established food producers who need a licensed facility.

LeCoy, who’ll be 23 next week, says she’s investing the monies she won at three local business plan competitions -- $5,000 at 5x5 Night in Grand Rapids, $1,000 in the Calvin College BizPlan Competition and $3,000 in the West Michigan Regional Business Plan Competition.

Uptown Kitchen begins construction this week at 1514 Wealthy St. SE, in the former City Knitting location.

LeCoy envisions the endeavor as a way for caterers, food producers and other related businesses to cut overhead costs by having use of a fully licensed kitchen that’s available 24/7, without the cost of creating a kitchen or owning the property. It also allows small food-focused businesses to earn more money than the state cottage law permits, thus allowing businesses to grow.

The kitchen space has three distinct areas: a prep kitchen, a pastry kitchen and a catering kitchen.

“This actually started as a final project in the honors program at Calvin College, where I graduated this spring,” LeCoy says. “I began interviewing local small businesses and realized the need for commercial kitchen space because people wanted to sell their food products and couldn’t because of the cottage food law. Under the cottage law, you can sell food made in home kitchens at farmers markets [and] roadside markets, but there’s a huge leap to selling a food product in a store because it needs to be made in a licensed commercial kitchen.”

Uptown Kitchen will include an event and meeting area with a demonstration kitchen for people wishing to hold cooking classes or other events for up to 50 people.

If all goes as planned, the kitchen will be available for rent in November. For more information, you can contact Kelly LeCoy at 616-776-2655 or Kelly@uptownkitchengr.com.

Source: Kelly LeCoy, Uptown Kitchen
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photography credit: Kelly Powers, courtesy of Calvin College
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