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Extreme Makeover-style home to be built in six days, given to a military veteran

A military veteran will receive a brand new, LEED- and Zero Step-certified passive energy home next July 4 thanks to a Grand Rapids nonprofit that will construct the house from the ground up in six days. ABC's popular television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is one inspiration for the project.

Homes of Hope, a nonprofit founded by Grand Rapids builder Rich Bloem, will build the home assisted by area builders, architects, social workers, materials distributors, and interested residents who will donate their time and talents to the project.

Bloem bought a vacant lot at 336 Donald Place in Wealthy Heights, a small neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood undergoing a grassroots effort to rebuild itself while retaining its historical perspective, with the intent of building a for-profit home there.

"I've spent a lot of time visiting a friend at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and have gotten to know the guys there," Bloem says. "It makes an impact on you and it put a burden on my heart to realize how much they've sacrificed for us. I had this vision to build the house and give it away."

Every Friday, 12 to 20-plus people meet to move the project forward. To date, 25 teams work in areas that range from procuring materials to setting up a support framework to help the home recipient with any mental or physical challenges they have.

Bloem plans to construct the two-story, 1,322-square-foot home of structural insulated panels (SIP) and Forestry Stewardship Council-certified wood. The home will have solar panels and high efficiency HVAC, and will be completely furnished. Pre-construction and materials staging will be in a warehouse. Precise timing will be a key factor for delivery of materials to the building site for the six-day, 24/7 construction blitz at the end of June 2014.

Bloem says he's had a lot of help along the way from groups like the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, Kenowa Hills High School vocational trades class, and Volunteers of America, a group which is connected with the Wounded Warrior Project and is taking applications from veterans. Volunteers of America will handle the qualifications process and determine who will receive the home.

A website for the build is under construction. If you'd like to participate, contact Rich Bloem at Homes by True North.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Drip Drop Drink coffee bar first retailer open in restored historic Russell Block Building, Muskegon

At just 300 square feet, Drip Drop Drink coffee bar takes up a small space in downtown Muskegon's circa 1890 Russell Block Building. But the slow-drip brewing method that coaxes the flavor out of every coffee bean and the house-made flavored syrups for the specialty drinks pack a delicious wallop.

In August, Drip Drop Drink was the first of a handful of planned retail shops and a craft brewery in the historic building at 360 W. Western Ave. to open to the public. Nov. 2, coffee shop owner Todd Johnson plans a grand opening celebration with free samples and coffee brewing instruction by Josh Dugue of Counter Culture Coffee's Chicago-based training center.

"I've always loved the vibe of really nice coffee shops and how you can relax over a good cup of coffee, so I started planning for it and picking up equipment for the past two or three years," says Johnson. "Initially, I was going to pack everything up and head to Grand Rapids, but a friend was heading up the Russell Block development and talked me into opening in Muskegon. And here we are in this really old, cool building."

The shop shares a common café space with Unruly Brewing, which is still in development. Vintage coffee devices, radios from the '70s, a church pew with an orange velour seat, a vintage door for the menu board, and vintage food lockers for coffee storage perk up the décor. A window suspended from the ceiling creates a visual separation from Unruly Brewing, but still leaves the space open and connected.

Hours: Mon. - Fri. 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sat. 8 to 5; Sun. 10 to 4.
Grand opening event: Nov. 2, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Drip Drop Drink

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Grand Rapids again named Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by League of American Bicyclists

Grand Rapids has once again received the designation of Bicycle Friendly Community at the Bronze level by the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists. The award recognizes the city's efforts toward transforming its transportation networks, quality of life for residents, and sustainability. Grand Rapids received its first award in 2009.

The five award levels -- diamond, platinum, gold, silver, and bronze -- provide clear benchmarks for communities to improve in the "5 E's" of the Bicycle Friendly Community program -- engineering, enforcement, encouragement, education, and evaluation and planning.

"People are looking for a vibrant bikeable and walkable city, and a Bike Friendly Community city can say 'look at all the wonderful things we have for you, come to our city to experience it,'" says Elizabeth Murphy, spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists. "Bronze usually means a city is doing excellent in one 'E' or a couple of 'E's', but there's room for improvement. In Grand Rapids, 'encouragement' is the strong 'E,' because of organized group rides, high involvement with bike month activity, the Mayor's Bike Ride, and there are several bike shops."

Tom Tilma, executive director of the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, led the extensive application process and was among the city leaders to receive the award on Tuesday.

"This puts the city on the map nationally as a place that is bicycle friendly," Tilma says. "The coveted 25- to 34-year-olds demographic is driving less and seeking communities that are bicycle, pedestrian and transit friendly."

Tilma adds that Grand Rapids has made great strides with 30 miles of bike lanes added in less than a year and half, and an increase in downtown bicycle parking. He believes the city still needs to develop a non-motorized transportation plan, create a bicycle coordinator position with the city, and promote bicycle commuting.

"The GGRBC has established a goal for the community of 2.5 percent [of bicycle commuters], which would be a five-fold increase," Tilma says. "We are seeing increases. Our fourth bicycle traffic count conducted in September 2013 showed a 36 percent increase in bicyclists over 2012."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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There's a Donkey in East Hills selling tacos!

There's a Donkey in East Hills selling tacos!

Well, at least there will be in November when Donkey, a new kind of taqueria, opens in what used to be a neighborhood gas station on the corner of Henry St. SE and Wealthy St. SE (665 Wealthy St. SE).

Donkey kicks up its heels just a stone's throw from The Winchester restaurant, owned by Paul Lee and his family, the main investors and idea-generators behind Donkey's concept.

"It's a taco shop, and we'll add a little bar element to it," Lee says. "It's going to be tacos, salsas, margaritas, and we'll have Spanish beers on tap. The taqueria is something that we don't really have in Grand Rapids, not like this. We want to put something in place that's very different than The Winchester and something unique for the city. We're taking a building that was existing and there wasn't much use for it anymore, and we're finding a new use for it."

While Lee doesn't open up much about what customers can expect when they walk in the door -- he wants them to have their own experience of the place -- he did divulge that the interior woodwork is crafted from reclaimed wood that came from four houses demolished a while ago in Detroit. The bar, created by Troy Bosworth of Studio Wise Design, will be one-of-a-kind and custom to the space.

Prior to the start of construction last December, environmental soil testing came back clean, despite years of having gas tanks sunk in the ground. The tanks were removed about 20 years ago. The soil wasn't conducive to compaction, so much of it was removed and replaced before work began, says Lee.

There's no onsite parking because the original gas station didn't need it, but there will be space for some 30 bicycles and seven new on-street automobile spaces.

Construction: McGraw Construction

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Donkey

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6.25 Paper Studio marks success in downtown Grand Rapids with noteworthy move to larger store

It's a noteworthy achievement for any boutique to grow beyond its retail incubator space and move to an independent storefront. Downtown Grand Rapids-based 6.25 Paper Studio is doing it after just two years.

The fun, creative atmosphere of 6.25 Paper Studio prevails in its new digs just one door west of the tiny shop where it all started. No longer part of the retail incubator MoDiv (Shops @ Monroe Center & Division) at 40 Monroe Center Ave. NW, the new store kept the same address, but relocated to the former Lia Rose storefront, doubling its size.

"I can't exactly expand double in product right now, but will have a place for kids to come and write letters to Santa Claus. If they include their address we'll write back to the kids," says owner and designer Abbey Fowler. "I also plan to have a workshop where families can make their own ornaments -- paper, of course. The space is also conducive to classes, so I'm preparing to do a calligraphy class and some holiday gift wrapping classes."

Fowler started with a 350-square-foot shop in September 2011, and expanded that to 850 square feet after seven months. The newest shop opened this week, with her own custom-designed gift cards, wedding and party invitations, wedding albums, giftwrap, and calendars. Fowler also carries journals, specialty envelopes, gift cards, and small paper gift items from unique companies not carried by other shops in town.

After the holidays, the store will offer a few basic office supplies in response to requests from downtown businesses.

Some 20 stores around the country also carry Fowler's wholesale line of custom-designed paper goods.

"I figured [a retail space] would be a 10-year goal, and the opportunity came eight years early," Fowler says. "Downtown residents and people who work downtown are my best customers. The people that live down here want walkability and they want to shop local and live local and not drive to the mall for everything."

Humanity Boutique will occupy part of the former 6.25 Paper Design space in MoDiv. Read the article here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of 6.25 Paper Studio

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Humanity Boutique answers customer demand with expansion, more fashions in new store

Courtney Hunt says that just three months after she, her mom, and her three sisters opened the cute little 200-square-foot Humanity Boutique in Grand Rapids, they knew they needed a bigger store because they kept hearing it from customers. That spark of an idea becomes reality this week as the women's fashion boutique more than doubles its size.

Humanity Boutique is part of the MoDiv retail incubator (Shops @ Monroe Center & Division, 40 Monroe Center Ave.) and, this week, moves into some of the space that opened up at MoDiv when 6.25 Paper Studio moved next door (read the story here).

The shop will double its inventory with more display space for its singular fashion vision that includes handbags, scarves, belts, jewelry, and women's wear. Dresses, skirts, tops, leggings, and blazers run in sizes small to large, and, Hunt says, at affordable prices. Once the inventory sells out, it's gone for good because the store orders all new designs and colors in its place.

"We just offer what we believe in," Hunt says. "We want people to be able to afford what they wear and to feel confident and comfortable. Our feedback from customers is always, 'Wow, your fashion is different and cutting-edge, and Grand Rapids needs it.' Our prices are affordable. There aren't too many stores that have a selection like we have."

Courtney, her mom, Deborah Hunt, and her sisters Jodi Nesbitt, Kelly Hunt, and Katie Williams opened the store in March. The sisters have all lived abroad -- think Sydney, Australia, Paris, and Milan -- and studied either fashion or fashion merchandising, then brought their experiences back to Grand Rapids.

Courtney says that in the new location, they'll deck out the huge display windows overlooking Monroe Center and the MoDiv lobby with their latest fashions, hoping to make the shop irresistible to window shoppers.

A Girls' Night Out shopping event is in the works and will be announced on the store's Facebook page and website soon.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Humanity Boutique

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Vacant buildings in booming East Hills to get $860K remake into apartments, office space

East Hills has become the place to live, work, invest, and shop, says East Hills Council of Neighbors Director Rachel Lee. Developer Shayne Malone agrees. Malone, principal of Malone Development, LLC, plans to invest $860,000 in two vacant buildings to bring fresh workspaces and urban apartments to the neighborhood by early 2014.

Malone is also a principal in Cherry Street Apartments, LLC, which purchased the buildings: a former Project Rehab building at 822 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids, and a former boarding house for streetcar operators, just around the corner at 220 Eastern Ave. SE.

822 Cherry will feature 4,800 square feet of office space on the main level with an original glass curtain wall, and four apartments below. Malone says he'll complete the build-out of the office space as soon as he has a tenant.

Plans for 220 Eastern include 12 new residential apartments with the original hardwood floors of the circa 1915 structure.

Both buildings are in a historic district. Malone says the Historic Preservation Commission has verbally okayed plans to update the facades in accordance with historic preservation guidelines, but he awaits the official signoff before beginning work.

"The renovations will maintain the historic feel of the buildings," Malone says. "I feel strongly about the existing and future potential of East Hills because it was a neighborhood that was developed for streetcars and is already set up to be walkable. There is a lot of architectural history that can be built upon, which provides a lot of value for what we have planned."

"We're excited to see developers that understand the historic character of the neighborhood as an amenity to want to invest in our neighborhood," Lee says. "We think providing office space here is a fabulous idea. There are so many places nearby to go for lunch or to shop. We think we're an ideal place for a creative team to not just work in the area, but to be a part of the area."

Project architect: DeStigter Architecture
Construction manager: Malone Development, LLC

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Malone Development, LLC

Punjab Grill brings fresh Indian cuisine to downtown Grand Rapids

A new option for those with a taste for exotic eats has come to downtown Grand Rapids. Punjab Grill, specializing in the distinctive flavors of the Punjab region of northern India, is serving up the delicious cuisine at 40 Pearl St. NW.

Punjab Grill is a family business, with dad Gursharn Singh as executive chef and son Simran Singh as general manager. Simran says his father's passion for the food of his homeland is evident in every dish served.

"When you're passionate about a certain lifestyle or career, it comes straight from the heart," Simran Singh says. "My father specializes in the Mughlai form of cooking, which dates from the late 1600s to the 1800s. It was prepared mainly for royalty and kings. There are lot more spices involved, and a fresher tone, so we use fresh and dried fruits, like grapes, pineapples, cashews, and pistachios. The foods are highly flavorful and hearty."

Punjab Grill makes its own paneer cheese in-house and prepares meats on a Tandoor grill. Spices are ground as needed, then added to house-made sauces and to dough for fresh baked breads.

Singh says a couple of menu items have already become customer favorites: the Tandoori house grill featuring Tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, chicken Mughlai kabob, shrimp kabob, and lamb kabob; and the Samundhari Korma featuring scallops, crab, shrimp, and fish, with grapes and pineapples in a creamy cashew sauce.

The menu features a daily lunch buffet with a selection of appetizers, entrees, soups, and desserts for $10.99.

The restaurant has applied for a liquor license and expects to serve martinis, beer, and wine in about six months.

Hours: Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sat. noon to 3 and 4 to 10.

Follow them on Facebook here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Punjab Grill

Caledonia church "goes to town" with purchase, rehab of Heritage Hill Christian Science building

There are several ways to "go to town" with any renovation project, and Caledonia-based Cornerstone Church has chosen to do it literally by purchasing the former Christian Science building at 48 Lafayette Ave. SE in Grand Rapids' Heritage Hill neighborhood. Cornerstone Church's main campus remains at 1675 84th St., Caledonia, but establishing a second campus in a central Grand Rapids neighborhood has been an idea for about five years, says Executive Director Pennie Westers.

The circa 1904 structure with its 1962 addition offers 22,000 square feet for a main worship center, a children's worship area, and community gathering spaces. Westers says the building has been maintained in "beautiful condition," which meant that to get it move-in ready required only a few changes to accommodate new technology and a stage for the worship band.

"We added wireless Internet access because we do a lot of our work wirelessly, we offer electronic giving, and people who attend our church might use a Bible app," Westers says. "We also put in screens to project video and song lyrics because we don't use hymnals."

Some seating was removed to make way for the stage area, and A/V technology was installed in the children's worship area for videos and song lyrics.

Plans include adding a kitchenette and café area for gathering before and after services, and adding a youth program geared toward junior high and senior high students.

Westers says the worship center has seating for about 450. The church opened last Sunday with a 10:30 a.m. service. There is no dress code -- even the pastor wears jeans -- and Westers says anyone interested in attending a service needs to "just show up."

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Cornerstone Church

More athletics options on track for Aquinas College with groundbreaking for sports complex

With a dozen shovels in the ground, Grand Rapids' Aquinas College faculty, donors, and students broke ground last week for the final phase of its $14 million athletic complex while nearly 500 student athletes looked on. The Alksnis Athletics & Recreation Building at 1580 Fulton St. SE will complete the sports and recreation project begun with the opening of the $7 million Sturrus Sports & Fitness Center, which opened in November 2010.

The 70,000-square-foot Alksnis Athletics & Recreation Building, named for lead donors Greg (AQ '71) and Sally Alksnis, will provide Aquinas students the space and facilities needed for intramural and junior varsity athletics: a 200-meter NCAA-certified track, a turf infield, portable courts, practice areas for baseball, softball, soccer, and lacrosse, and an extensive curtaining system that will allow multiple activities simultaneously.

Athletic Director Terry "Bo" Bocian said at the groundbreaking ceremony, "For the last three years, our teams have had to go off-campus to practice. No one in the league or any other small college will have a building like this. This building will be a showcase and make a statement for Aquinas."

In addition to offering an increase in athletic opportunities for students, the Alksnis Building will create an inviting new Fulton Street gateway to the campus and its expanses of woods, green spaces, modern eco-friendly learning environments, and turn-of-the-century academic buildings.

Slated completion date: August 2014.
Construction: Rockford Construction
Architect: Integrated Architecture

Writer, photographer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Renderings courtesy of Aquinas College

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Monument Park well on the way to becoming a welcoming respite in the heart of Grand Rapids

One would think that the renovation of a tiny triangle of greenspace would be a breeze, but the redesign and rebuilding of Monument Park in downtown Grand Rapids has been a multi-year process, involving planners, citizens, military veterans, landscape designers, utility companies, and scads of others.

Monument Park, bordered by Monroe Center Avenue NW pedestrian walkway, Fulton St., and Division Avenue, is home to a 25-ft.-high monument honoring Civil War veterans. The park has changed shape and size over the decades, and, off and on, has been a greenspace with no trees and a greenspace with trees. In recent years, a retaining wall created a raised barrier, which made it difficult for pedestrians to step up into the park and impossible for people in wheelchairs or on bikes to access it.

Tree removal, leveling the park to sidewalk level, and extensively rebuilding the underground utilities and the outdated coal storage areaways that run under the park is complete, and the new base for the monument and fountain is in place.

Plans to relocate the monument and the fountain that surrounds it to a central viewing area in the park will make the monument more visible and give it the place of honor it needs, says Jay Steffen, assistant planning director. Thirteen new trees, Emerald Sunshine Elms and Spring Flurry Serviceberry (tree form), will offer shade and accentuate the monument and walkways.

"The new design makes [the park] universally accessible," Steffen says. "Walkways will go through the park and up to the monument; there will be a lawn area and other landscaping, bike racks, and two historical benches that will be donated by Bruce Butgereit and History Remembered, Inc. Bruce Butgereit is the person who raised all the funds in the early 2000s to renovate the monument."

Steffen says the redesign also provides for a café space outside the Kendall Building and other buildings that border the park to the north.

"It's really kind of cool when you think about people milling about Rosa Parks Circle on the west end of Monroe Center," Steffen says, "and that this will be an anchor on the east end. It will be more inviting to people to spend time there, and yet we're not losing sight of the importance of the monument."

Project completion is set for December 15, 2013.
Companies involved in the project: Katerburg VerHage, FTC&H, Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority, Geotech, Inc., OCBA.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Renderings courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Planning Department.
Historic photos from the Grand Rapids Public Library

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$55M GVSU science building creates state-of-the-art lab space, connects to student marketplace

It's been a big hole in the ground since early April. But now that big hole on Grand Valley State University's Allendale campus is full of infrastructure, footings, and foundations and will soon be topped off with a $55 million state-of-the-art science and biology building and an adjoining Laker Marketplace building.

The four-story, 151,000-square-foot science building received $30 million from Michigan's capital outlay program to help the university bring 14 biology research laboratories, faculty offices, student classrooms, and storage for field equipment to the university. The new facility will open up space for science education in the existing Padnos science building, now outgrown, when the biology department relocates after construction is completed.

Pioneer Construction Project Manager Scott Veine says the project has applied for LEED Silver certification and will have 38 different trades onsite during construction, including specialty trades to tackle the laboratory casework, such as installation of the lab equipment and safety equipment. He expects the project to require some 700 skilled tradespeople and about 300,000 hours of labor.

"The mechanical and electrical crews have to be very precise because we're dealing with lab gases, piping, vacuums," Veine says. "We also have large greenhouse on the project, so we have a greenhouse contractor and there's only a few of those across the country."

The separate-but-connected Laker Marketplace will feature a glass curtain wall and an outdoor pedestrian plaza. The building will house the university bookstore, which will move from the Kirkhof Center, and will also offer food services.

Veine expects to complete the marketplace in April 2015 and the science building in July 2015.

Architect: FTC&H
Construction manager: Pioneer Construction
Greenhouse construction: Rough Brothers, Inc.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Founders Brewing brings the love of craft-brewed beer into the light of day

The love of good beer is behind everything Founders Brewing creates, and that includes its new 3,000-square-foot beer garden on the front lawn of the pub, something co-owner Mike Stevens dubs "a drinkin' man's Disney Land." It's part of a $26 million expansion at 235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids.

The beer garden opened last week, bringing lovers of good craft beer outside to a space decked out with comfortable seating, a roofed area, and creature comforts to keep patrons plenty warm in the cool months: open fire pits, overhead heaters, and outdoor bar service.

In addition to the beer garden, a larger indoor taproom offers customers more seating inside. Co-owner Dave Engbers says improving the Founders experience is the reason for the expansion inside and out.  

"Everything we do is in an effort to make our beer better and to make our employees' jobs better and to give our customers the best experience we can," Engbers says. "Grand Rapids is getting all the attention as Beer City USA, and as the largest brewery in Grand Rapids we feel it's our responsibility to make sure that we lead by example."

Relocating the original bar from Founders' first pub in the iconic Brass Works Building on N. Monroe Avenue to the expanded taproom tugged at the heartstrings, Engbers says. "Mike and I both spent many a night behind that bar and it has a lot of sentimental value to us and to our patrons that have been original mug club members. We commissioned it ourselves for the Brass Works building. When we brought it into the new space, I went down to see it and it actually brought tears to my eyes. I haven't seen it in seven years."

Founders’ next project is to finish up the interior space where the company will hold its beer school, which should start in late 2013.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy of Dan Miller, The Beer Truck

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Gravel Bottom Brewery opens in Ada with five craft brews on tap, brewing supply store next door

The enticing aromas of warm yeast and roasted grains filled the taproom of Ada's Gravel Bottom Brewery and drifted through the open archway to the brew supply store in the next room. With the bright, shiny three-barrel brewing system directly behind the concrete bar, patrons can watch the brewing process, talk about home brewing with resident and guest brewers, and saunter over to the store to get supplies to take home.

The cozy taproom at 418 Ada Dr. opened Sept. 7 with five brews on tap: a crisp grapefruit IPA crafted by guest brewers John Wiechertjes and Steve Waalkes, a light pale ale, a rich porter, a robust black IPA, and a smooth, sweet Belgian Wit. Owner Matt Michiels says a pumpkin ale will be underway after barbecue company Pit Stop Catering roasts 50 pumpkins over cherry wood -- all in the brewery's parking lot.

And while drinking beer and enjoying it is the goal, Michiels says that teaching people about beer and about how to brew it is a huge part of Gravel Bottom Brewery's culture.

"We'll have free seminars, and we'll have classes for the beer lover who doesn't brew, beginning brewers, and advanced brewers," he says. "They'll be able to have class in the taproom with the brewer, enjoy the beer, then walk over to the store to get supplies."

Michiels says the brew house will share its recipes, and even help brewers determine how to give a beer more body or make it sweeter, then help the brewer choose the ingredients from the store's stock of grains, malts, spices, and hops. The store also offers brewing kits and equipment.

During last Monday's visit, Brett Langscheid, a trained cheese maker and brewer, was busy mixing up the next batch of beer, which will be ready in a few weeks. Four brewers are on staff, but Michiels says the pub will bring in guest brewers on a regular basis.

Hours: Weds.-Thurs., 2 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. to midnight.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Photos: Jeff Hill

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Decadent gourmet cookies add a sweet dimension to downtown Grand Rapids shops

It was a sweet surprise to walk into MoDiv at 40 Monroe Center Ave. during ArtPrize last week and come face to face with tables of glass containers filled with decadent Monica's Gourmet Cookies. The queue of enthusiastic customers was long, but my friend and I discovered we needed every minute in line to decide which of the 26 varieties we were going to try.

Monica Mitidieri began selling her cookies online in 2001, during her years as a caterer, and the success of the cookies soon propelled her into selling them and leaving the meal catering behind. After striking a deal to supply Spartan stores with the rich, flavorful delicacies, the business took off.

She created a bakehouse kitchen and café at 3668 29th St. and two weeks ago opened a small store in MoDiv (Shops at Monroe Center and Division) -- just in time to debut her specialty Grand Rapids cookie during ArtPrize: The Grand…Rapidly Disappearing cookie, chock full of rich dark chocolate, pretzels, and dark cocoa almonds, and topped with dark chocolate.

Monica describes the tasty morsels as "a mounded type of cookie, soft, dense -- they're little but they're mighty. Once a customer eats one, they get why they're $1.75 each."

My friend and I settled on four cookies: Monica's Best Signature Chocolate Chip (not your grandma's recipe!), Red Velvet Cake (with cream cheese frosting), Maple Walnut (with black walnut flavoring and Michigan maple syrup), and Cinnamon Sugar. After "sampling" each, (we ate every crumb), we voted on our favorites. The chocolate chip and the maple walnut tied for first place.

The cookies are baked fresh daily at the bakehouse, where Monica also offers cinnamon rolls, quiche, breakfast scones (think bacon), and soup. The focus at MoDiv, though, is cookies. Monica says the shop sold 800 of the comfort bombs on Saturday alone.

"I'm thrilled to be out in the public," she says, adding that she feels like the drummer who finally came out from behind the band to take the mic. "There's so much more to my business than just what's here at MoDiv. The energy here is incredible right now."

You can find Monica's Gourmet Cookies at Spartan Stores, online, or at MoDiv from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during ArtPrize, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Monica's Gourmet Cookies
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