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Beer geeks, unite! Craft Beer Cellar aims to be a haven for unique brews in Grand Rapids

Not long before Jessica Beeby and her husband, Brian Beaucher, the owners of the newly opened Craft Beer Cellar Grand Rapids on Ionia Avenue, bid adieu to their home on the East Coast to return to Michigan, they were wondering what they were going to do for work once they were back in the Mitten State.

Both beer enthusiasts -- or, really, beer geeks, as they call themselves -- the couple knew they’d love to work together and merge their career experiences: Beaucher had been a small business owner and Beeby’s background is in administrative support. So, they took their business know-how and turned to their love of brews.

“We’d known the owners of the Craft Beer Cellar flagship store in Massachusetts for a long time, and our beer knowledge had expanded exponentially because of them, so we approached them about opening a franchise in Grand Rapids,” says Beeby, who was born and raised in Kalamazoo. “We spent a couple months training with them before we moved to Michigan. We moved here and found a space we loved.”

That space is at 404 Ionia Ave. SW, in the Klingman Lofts Building that's just across from the Downtown Market, where Beeby and Beaucher are celebrating the bottle store’s grand opening this Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18.

“When we were first thinking of moving to Grand Rapids, one of the first places we visited was the Downtown Market, and we immediately fell in love with it,” Beeby says. "We love that part of the city, and we’re so excited to be down here.”

The store, which employs eight full- and part-time employees, has been open to the public throughout this week, giving Beeby and Beaucher a chance to get feedback before the big debut at the end of the week. This week, they’ll mark the grand opening with a ribbon cutting and craft beer tastings from such spots as Speciation Ales and Vander Mill on Friday, and more craft beer tastings -- from Brewery Vivant, Saugatuck Brewing and others -- donuts from the Grand Rapids-based Doughrunts, raffles, and WGRD broadcasting live on Saturday.

And, of course, beer drinkers will get a chance to explore the shop, where there’s a seating area in which to drink and eat (there are locally-made snacks in house, and patrons are invited to bring in food from the Downtown Market or other nearby shops). Plus, a section of the store features a walk-in cooler (you can buy a bottle or can from there and drink it in the store), as well as rows upon rows of craft beer. At the bar, there are 20 rotating draft lines from around the globe -- and from our own backyard.

“The draft lines allow us to bring in breweries that are not canning or bottling yet,” Beeby says. “We can feature people who are pretty new and not in full distribution yet. That helps them because they can test out beers they’re making and gauge how well the public is reacting to them so hopefully one day they can do bottling or canning.”

In addition to being able to support local and independent brewers, Beeby and Beaucher say they’re thrilled to contribute to the city’s growing beer community.

“It’s really exciting,” Beeby says of the opening. “The beer industry is amazing, especially here in Grand Rapids. Everyone is so collaborative. It’s so exciting to see people want to work together and truly live up to the ‘Beer City’ name.”

Craft Beer Cellar Grand Rapids (404 Ionia Ave. SW) will celebrate its grand opening from 12pm to 8pm on Friday, March 17 and the same time on Saturday, March 18. Normal business hours will be 10am to 10pm Monday through Saturday and 11am to 7pm Sunday. For more information, you can check out the shop’s Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Steph Harding

From Second City to Beer City: These GR comedians plan to open improv comedy venue

Grand Rapids comedian Joe Anderson knows that when it comes to opening an improv, sketch and experimental comedy venue and cocktail bar in downtown Grand Rapids, failure is not an option.

“We want to come out swinging because unless we do that, we can't open,” says Anderson, who has worked for the past two years alongside fellow comedian Ben Wilke to draft plans and garner support for The Comedy Project. The two recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for the venue, and its $25,000 funding goal is growing steadily within reach.

“Even with the Kickstarter, we could have done it for more money, but the worst thing that would have happened would be not meeting that Kickstarter goal because we need everything to be a win,” he says. “In the same way, there are so many people — whether it's a restaurant, but certainly a theater and comedy — so many people have had enough bad experiences or just mediocre experiences that they're not excited to go back… So, we need to make sure that anyone who comes, the first time they come, they're just like, 'Oh my gosh, this is great. I could do this once a month.’”

A Western Michigan University graduate, Second City alumnus, and seven-year board member of the non-profit Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Anderson began working with Wilke — a Chicago native who also has roots in the Windy City’s famed Second City comedy troupe — began working more dedicatedly on The Comedy Project two years ago.

The goal of the space, Anderson says, is to be a kind of “repertoire comedy place,” with a small group of six to 10 performers who are on stage performing both improv and sketch comedy shows regularly,  with scheduling wiggle room for other comedians and improv troupes to host their own shows.

“There would be this core group of people doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of the performances, but then there would be an unknown huge amount of other people putting shows on, putting shows on the other nights, stepping in when for some reason someone else can't do the show — kind of building this stable of performers,” he says, adding that although they are open to hosting some alt stand-up comedians for special event shows, they’re avoiding the more traditional comedy genre in favor of the more experimental.

In addition to daily improv shows, The Comedy Project will offer improv and sketch comedy classes geared at career development and innovation within professional organizations, using the tenets of improv to help people in all walks of life sharpen their communication skills.

“There will be an 18-year-old kid who just thinks he's funny, and then the 35-year-old mom who also does improv and then some 65-year-old executive at a company who’s also trying to learn how to talk more extemporaneously, how to seem more approachable or be more open to other people's ideas, since those are all things that happen in good improvising,” Anderson says.

Though the duo are still waiting to finalize details on the space, they’ve already solidified a few very important partnerships, including working with Matt Smith, owner of PitStop BBQ & Catering, to bring a full menu to a space with only a prep kitchen in its plans.

Anderson and Wilke have also received support from Michele Sellers, who was instrumental in the launch of local establishments that include Stella's and Hopcat, and like Revue Holding Co.'s Brian Edwards has been consulting on the project and plans for the future space -- which promises something just as unconventional as its performances.

“In our minds, we want this space to look like the comedy place cobbled together after some kind of apocalyptic event happened, and everyone just grabbed whatever they could to make this place seem like a theater — but they did grab the best things they could,” Anderson says.

There are a few logistics and funding hurdles to clear before solidifying any concrete timeline for opening, though ideally the The Comedy Project would be fully operational this spring for LaughFest 2017.

In a city that just keeps growing, Anderson says he’s confident he and Wilke have come to Grand Rapids at a time when something like The Comedy Project has a real shot.

“It’s just what's happening right now in Grand Rapids. It's the same reason why there's all these restaurants and all of these new developments; there's a Trader Joe's, and there's another brewery,” he says. “I think people just feel like they've been given permission to try things, and I think that applies to us as well. Looking at the kind of climate here in Grand Rapids right now it's like, ‘Yeah, we gotta do this. Grand Rapids can pull this off.’”

Click here to learn more about The Comedy Project’s Kickstarter campaign, which is open through Nov. 11, or find The Comedy Project here on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of The Comedy Project

A more meaningful life: Coppercraft Distillery owners focus on community - and, of course, cocktails

After Walter Catton was hit by an SUV while training for an Ironman in 2009, he spent 40 days in the hospital — and when he left, he and his wife, Kim Catton, knew they wanted their lives to change. The couple, who have six children together, wanted to be able to build and own something of their own — a place where they could grow a community.

So, in 2012 they founded the Coppercraft Distillery, a Holland-based artisan spirits distiller that began producing whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, and applejack in 2013 – the same year they opened their tasting room. Since then, Coppercraft has quickly taken off, winning awards for its handmade spirits crafted with local ingredients (the Cattons use corn from Zeeland’s Boersen Farms, for example) and landing support from throughout the community — and beyond. Restaurants in Michigan, Illinois and Colorado sell their various spirits, and that list is constantly growing.

“We wanted to live out the American dream,” Kim Catton says as she sits in the space that was carved from the former Belden Brick and Supply in Holland, where the distillery is producing tens of thousands of gallons of spirits annually. “Walter wanted to make something using his hands, and we thought, ‘Well, why not take a chance?’”

That decision to take a risk has paid off, and their drinks are landing high praise from neighbors to professionals. Recently, Coppercraft’s cask strength bourbon, which is aged in oak barrels, landed a Best of Category award from the American Distilling Institute, and its applejack and cask strength bourbon claimed gold medals from the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. Plus, the gin and rum have also won praise from the Denver International Spirits Show and the American Craft Spirits Association.

In addition to the people, residents and tourists alike, who visit the distillery for tours, tastings, live music, and more, Coppercraft was again tapped as the official spirit of Holland’s annual Tulip Time Festival. For three consecutive years, the distillery has crafted an exclusive Tulip Time signature cocktail. This time around, the distillery is offering “The Copper Blossom,” which showcases the venue’s rum that just won a bronze medal at the 2016 American Distiller’s Institute awards in San Diego.

Through May 31, establishments across Holland and Zeeland will create their own, customized Copper Blossom cocktail featuring Coppercraft’s rum as part of what the venue is calling the “Copper Trail.”

“We created the Copper Trail for this year’s Tulip Time Festival to involve and engage our community and our out-of-town guests,” Kim Catton says. “It not only demonstrates the various ways Coppercraft’s Rum can be served, but also gives our partners a chance to showcase their mixology talents.” You can check out the making of a Copper Blossom at Coppercraft in the video here:

The distillery and partnering establishments, the Holland Area Visitors Bureau, and the Tulip Time Office will provide Copper Trail cards that will allow customers to rate the cocktails — and those who visit a minimum of three participating venues can submit their cards to Coppercraft for a free stainless steel flask and a chance to win a $75 gift basket filled with a distillery gift card and other swag. For a list of the participating sites, go here.

With a strong foothold in the community, the Cattons are planning further expansion, including adding a kitchen that will allow them to offer small plates, something which they aim to do before the end of the summer, as well as potentially opening tasting rooms in Grand Rapids and Saugatuck. Plus, they’ll continue to grow their already popular programs, like distillery tours, live music events, vinyl nights and cocktail classes, all of which are held in the space that celebrates the area’s local history —some of their wood used in the space is 300-year-old wood Cypress wood from Holland’s Heinz pickle plant, and they have seats made from old South Haven High School bleachers.

The tasting room also proudly displays two stills, both of which are pre-Prohibition structures hailing from Louisville. The centerpiece of the business is the 350-gallon Vendome copper still — which, for those of us distillery layman, is reminiscent of some incredible steampunk art, but, for those in the alcohol know, it’s one of the main reasons the distillers can create spirits with complexity and character.

“We put our whole heart and soul into this, and we love sharing that with people,” Kim Catton says. “We want to share what we enjoy.”

For more information about Coppercraft Distillery, visit its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram account.

Social Kitchen & Bar debuts at Downtown Market, restaurant to celebrate grand opening this week

As servers pass in a whirlwind of sour cream pancakes, chicken and waffles, and corned beef hash, Sherie Ritzler surveys Saturday morning’s scene at Social Kitchen & Bar, a restaurant that just debuted at the Downtown Market, and, so far, the new venue’s general manager is more than a little pleased at what she hears.

“It’s like Christmas come early,” one diner says Saturday, the first time Social is serving brunch, as he navigates a bloody mary bar lined with a seemingly endless line of cocktail accoutrements: bacon, cheese, a million (well, give or take) hot sauces, horseradish, and so on.

These are the kind of statements Ritzler, a relatively new Grand Rapids transplant who has spent decades opening and running restaurants across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, likes to hear, especially as Social gears up for its official grand opening celebration from Thursday, May 5 through Sunday, May 8.

“Like the name, Social, says, we want this to be your watering hole, your go-to place,” says Ritzler, who most recently was working in Detroit for Peas & Carrots Hospitality, the restaurant group that owns Social and a half dozen other restaurants in the Detroit area and Chicago. This is the group’s first foray into West Michigan, and the second Social Kitchen & Bar — the other Social is located in Birmingham, Michigan.

“This building and concept fits in so well with us,” Ritzler says of the Downtown Market. “There’s the focus on the local — our bread comes from Field & Fire, our pies come from Sweetie-licious, and all our spices are from the Spice Merchants.”

As for what drew the restaurant group to Grand Rapids in the first place?

“The growth going on here, to not be a part of that would be a huge mistake,” Ritzler says as she watches a tray of mimosas travel past her, the waitress maneuvering around a toddler waving a handful of toy cars and heads for a family celebrating a birthday (“Dad, you’re so old,” a teenage daughter keeps repeating).

While Social hasn’t yet celebrated its grand debut, it has been holding a soft opening for a couple of weeks, and Ritzler says news of the 175-seat venue that offers what is characterized as “refined comfort food” has traveled quickly: the restaurant is often filled to capacity (and it's garnered high praise in customers' reviews). As part of the soft opening, customers have been asked to give written feedback — something Ritzler says has been “invaluable.”

“We’ve focused a lot on cocktails at Social on the east side of the state, but we know people really like beer here,” she says, explaining that, as of now, there are six Michigan beers on tap, but that list is expected to grow after receiving feedback from customers.

On the second day of the grand opening festivities, Social will host a dinner party on Friday, May 6 from 5 to 7:30pm. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Education Foundation and the Bissell Pet Foundation. Tickets for Friday’s event can be purchased here.

As for the food, Executive Chef Matt Frankum — who most recently was at The Old Goat — is whipping up brunch, lunch and dinner menus that Ritzler says aim to use fresh, local ingredients for food that customers can “trust and rely on.”

Brunch entrees range in price from $9 to $16, with such offerings as chicken and waffles ($10), sour cream pancakes ($11),  and steak and eggs ($16). Side dishes run from $3 to $8 and include biscuits and sausage gravy ($8), bacon hash browns ($7) and Field and Fire toast ($3).

For lunch, offerings vary from pizzas ($12-$16) to burgers ($11 to $15), such entrees as a falafel wrap ($12) and an egg sandwich ($11), and more. The dinner menu includes entrees from $13 to $32, including pecan trout ($24), naan grilled cheese ($13) and steak frites ($32). As part of the same dinner menu, there are salads, pizza, burgers, and more. Plus, there’s an extensive beer, cocktail and wine list.

Social Kitchen & Bar is located in the Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave. SW). It is open seven days a week and serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11am-3pm, brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-3pm, and dinner Sunday through Tuesday from 4-9pm, Wednesday and Thursday from 4-10pm, and Friday and Saturday from 4-11pm. For more information, you can go here.

Photos by Anna Gustafson

Michigan's first-ever co-op brewery set to launch investment campaign to buy Grand Rapids facility

Congregating in Eastown backyards, Grand Rapidians began to dream of the city’s first beer co-op years ago, and, over many a home brew, they envisioned an egalitarian venue that could introduce more diversity into the city’s flourishing beer scene, from the racial and socioeconomic makeup of its members to the kinds of drinks they pour.

“We talked about a brewery that could be owned by the community and be democratically run so it benefits everyone equally,” says Josh Smith, the director of the brewery’s board.

The High Five Co-op Brewery was born after founder Dallas McCulloch, inspired by the Blackstar Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, Texas, pitched an idea for the business in 2011 at a 5x5 business competition. He was awarded a $5,000 prize for the idea, which, following the brainstorming sessions in Eastown and other community organizing efforts, has gone on to land the support from many a resident and local business. More than 130 people are members of the co-op (to become a lifetime member, you pay a one-time fee of $150), and High Five has worked on a number of collaboration beers with other local breweries, including Harmony, The Mitten, Rockford Brewing Company, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, White Flame, Final Gravity, B.O.B.’s Brewery, HopCat, and Gravel Bottom Brewery.

Now, after garnering community support and navigating the way through the myriad paperwork and approvals from the state, High Five is about to launch an investment drive to raise money for the down payment on a physical space and brewing equipment, allowing it to become one of a handful of co-op breweries in the United States (there are now six such businesses, with about seven in the planning stages).

"The group of people who've  dedicated the last few years to build Michigan’s first cooperative brewery are excited about the  future,” says Laura Barbrick, president of High Five Co-op Brewery. “We feel that this is the right time to raise the capital needed to start our new cooperatively-owned brewpub in Grand Rapids.”

The investment launch party will be held on Friday, March 4 from 6-8pm at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW, suite 250. Members hope to raise about $250,000, with the minimum they’re aiming to land being $100,000. The investment campaign will continue for one year, after which Smith says members will be looking to purchase a facility somewhere within Grand Rapids' city limits.

When it opens, the brewery will be much like other business co-ops — imagine, say, a co-op grocery store, but with beer. This means the group is entirely owned by its members — that translates to every single member getting a vote in the direction of the brewery. While the membership roster now hovers at a little more than 130 people, Smith says he hopes that number will significantly expand to something more akin to Austin’s Blackstar, which has several thousands members. And, Smith says, he’s hoping their model could inspire other business co-ops to flourish in Grand Rapids.

“We’re definitely pro-co-op business in any form,” says Smith, who now works as a kitchen manager at HopCat and is wrapping up his business degree from Davenport University. “We love the idea of local food co-ops, and any other type of industry or business that could utilize this model. We feel strongly about how positive of an effect it can have on the community.

“We’ll probably always keep the membership open; we’ll never cap membership,” Smith continues. “We’ll do our part to support any other local co-ops.”

For the members, part of the draw of a co-op model is the ability to have a greater say in what their business does and stands for, including equality.

“We’d like to have more racial diversity in our members,” High Five board vice president Jorel Van Os recently told Draft Magazine. “That’s something the beer scene in general lacks, and we’d like to make more of an effort in marketing that. Even just having bathrooms that are trans-friendly, that’s important to me and a lot of other people on the board.”

In addition to being a more diverse and inclusive group, Grand Rapids’ first co-op brewery will focus on supporting the city’s home brewers, including featuring members’ home brews on tap.

“We envision the High Five Co-op Brewery space as a sort of brewer incubator,” Smith says. “There are tons of super talented home brewers in this town that make incredible beer that no one gets to try out. A lot of those home brewers aspire to break into the brewing industry and make a career out of home brewing. The problem is, it’s extremely difficult to get a job brewing on a commercial system without experience.”

To help brewers break into Grand Rapids’ beer scene, the co-op will “bridge that gap and provide home brewers with a place to gain experience brewing on commercial systems,” Smith explains.

If you’re interested in learning more about the co-op, you can check out its website here. All members of the public are invited to the launch party, which will take place on Friday, March 4 from 6-8pm at 1111 Godfrey Ave. SW, suite 250. At the party, there will be mainstay and specialty beer samples from the High Five Brewers Committee, as well as an informal presentation from the Board of Directors. For more details, visit High Five’s Facebook page here, and register for the launch party here.

Popular East Grand Rapids eatery to set a new table in Rockford

The popular East Grand Rapids restaurant Ramona's Table has begun renovations on a century-old building next to the White Pine Trail in Rockford with plans to convert it into the eatery's second location.  

The former nail salon at 17 Squires St. will soon feature a second-story loft that wraps around three walls with views to the outdoors and the main dining area below. After opening the drop ceiling, equipment from the building's days as a grain mill was discovered hanging from the ceiling, where it will stay as a conversation piece and a link to the building's beginnings.

"We like that juxtaposition of new and old," says Jackie Ziehm, a partner in the business with her husband Charlie Palm. "There's a lot of antique beams and the space will have a very warm feeling with contemporary twists. We've been working with the Rockford Area Historical Society to add photos of the building and the town from that period."

While Ramona's Table flagship location doesn't offer beer and wine, the Rockford location will, Ziehm says. A patio area will provide respite for customers who want to visit after a walk or bike ride on the White Pine trail just outside the back door. But Ziehm says the restaurant's signature food offerings, like its kitchen-roasted meats and scratch-made soups and desserts, will be the main attractions.

Flavorful sandwiches like The Loafer -- smoked meatloaf topped with chipotle tomato chutney on a pretzel bun -- and four daily soups that always feature White Bean Chicken Chili and French Onion, are high on the list of customer favorites.

Ziehm hopes to open sometime in May.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Ramona's Table

Ada's Bistro Chloe Elan to close -- but it's not what you think

Bistro Chloe Elan owner Christine Gill is happy that the Ada restaurant along the Thornapple River has become a destination for people who want to celebrate holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. But Gill wants the upscale eatery at 445 Ada Dr. to be a neighborhood gathering place where folks come to hang out, have a Michigan craft brew, and indulge in some great, reasonably priced food.

To that end, Gill will close Chloe Elan on April 14 and reopen on April 18 as Riverhouse Ada, a casual come-as-you-are pub with a focus on American regional comfort foods. Menu specialties, all made from scratch, include fish tacos, sandwiches, burgers, shrimp and grits, cottage pie, and a load of healthy salads, fresh fish, and grilled chicken.

Popular Chloe Elan offerings, such as the truffle fries, herbs and veggies grown in the onsite kitchen garden, and the summer concert series on the lawn, will stay.

"After being open for two years, I had an opportunity to do some demographic analysis and have come to the conclusion that people want something more on the casual side esthetically and menu-wise," Gill says. "I have worked with Christian Wiles of the Ada Museum and spent many wonderful hours there paging through the historical photos of Ada. Riverhouse Ada will give tribute to that history in the design and all the old black and white photos on the walls."

Gill hopes to bring her original Chloe Elan concept -- an homage to a daughter she gave up for adoption and the family that adopted her -- to downtown Grand Rapids in the future.

Riverhouse Ada will feature several craft brews on tap, a pool table, and dart board.

Gill expects to be busier than ever, and has begun the hiring process for more servers, bartenders, and server assistants.

The April 18 grand opening is a ticketed event. To inquire, call Bistro Chloe Elan.
.
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Riverhouse Ada

Grand Rapids' first West Side distillery of fine spirits could be just months away

Entrepreneurs Kyle Van Strien and Jon O'Connor have some spirited plans to bring Grand Rapids its first neighborhood distillery and tasting room.

The pair and a silent partner purchased an 8,000-square-foot building at 537 Leonard St. NW on the corner of Leonard and Quarry St. NW, and have begun the process of converting it into Long Road Distillers, LLC, a full-on spirits distillery with customer amenities.

First, two upstairs apartments and a main level clothing store must be vacated, according to federal law. The building must be completely production-ready and a bond in place before the final licenses can be procured.

"We will be doing production onsite in about 2,500 to 3,000 square feet for production and storage," Van Strien says. "We'll serve cocktails and have the spirits tasting room in the front, with overflow seating upstairs. We'll produce everything onsite. We want to take the microbrewery model and apply it to the distillery, and have people come and hang out and learn about how we source and make the products."

O'Connor, a real estate broker and appraiser with West Michigan Appraisers, and Van Strien, project coordinator for Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, will be the head distillers and will work at the business full-time once everything is in place.

"Our goal is to source as much of our inputs from Michigan as possible; our vodka will have as much grain from West Michigan as possible," O'Connor says. "We'll start with vodka, gin, a flavored vodka, possibly a rum that will be sourced outside Michigan for the cane sugar, and an un-aged whiskey. We'll grow into producing aged whiskey and rye, which take years to age. Smaller companies have the ability to push the envelope with experimentation and work with fruit, grains, and botanicals to provide flavor and sources for our products."

No opening date has been set, but the guys are shooting for a fall 2014 opening, if the licensing and build-out processes fall into place.

Van Strien and O'Connor are good friends with Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus, who own Mitten Brewing just across Quarry St. Mitten Brewing aims to triple its beer production by expanding into a second building on the same corner. Read the story here.

"We can't sell their product, they can't sell ours (because of licensing restrictions)," Van Strien says. "But we're definitely excited about partnering with them and catalyzing economic development in the area. There's a lot of new energy developing right there on that corner."

Long Road Distillers goes before the Grand Rapids Planning Commission for a special land use permit on March 27.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Kendall Building's Osteria Rossa, the "red tavern" casual Italian eatery, aims for March opening

It's been in the works for months, and now Chef Christopher Perkey, owner of Osteria Rossa, says he's looking at a possible March opening date for the casual Italian eatery.

Osteria Rossa, which translates loosely to "red tavern," occupies the main floor of the recently renovated historic Kendall Building, 16 Monroe Center Ave. NE, at the crossroad of Fulton St. and Division Avenue, the bull's-eye center of Grand Rapids.

Monument Park
, which is in the midst of a total renovation, is just steps away from the front door and will be an integral part of Osteria Rossa's outdoor dining experience.

"We have gotten permission from the Grand Rapids DDA to expand the dining area into the park," says Chef Perkey. "It will wrap around by the trees and grass. We'll be the only restaurant in Grand Rapids where you can eat in a park. The whole front of the restaurant will open so customers can move in and out, and we'll be able to serve beer and wine out there."

Perkey says the cuisine and atmosphere will be the most casual type of Italian dining you can find in Italy. Wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas and sausages, breads from Field & Fire, soups from scratch, and farm-to-fork ingredients fill the menu.

Perkey hopes that his family-friendly meals and hours will entice families visiting the Grand Rapids Children's Museum to venture down a few doors for lunch, supper, or a mid-afternoon snack.

"We'll be kid-friendly," says Perkey, a father of three. "If they want noodles with butter they can have that, or maybe an interesting shaped pizza, and we will have spaghetti and meatballs."

Anticipated hours: Lunch, dinner, and evenings, Mon-Fri.; dinners and evening, Sat.

Design: Lott3Metz Architects
Construction manager: 616 Development  

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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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

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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Fresh, seasonal cuisine brings the best of Italia to Eastown's new Trattoria di' Stagione

The name Trattoria di' Stagione means "restaurant of seasons," and Chef Dan Chudik has taken the moniker to heart by creating a menu of Italian cuisine that changes not only with the seasons, but sometimes every week, depending on which ingredients are in season and plentiful.

Trattoria di' Stagione opened in April in the space that was the Radix Tavern and, before that, The Queen's Pub at 1420 Lake Dr. SE, Grand Rapids. Balwinder Bal, owner of the adjacent Bombay Cuisine, which shares the kitchen with the trattoria, owns both restaurants. Chef Chudik, who owned the popular Tuscan Express in Cascade, is the passion behind the seasonal concept and the food.

"I've been doing the seasonal, local foods thing over 20 years," Chudik says. "Everybody thinks it's so hip now, but when I opened Tuscan Express back in '95 we were doing it. I wanted [this restaurant] based off local fresh seasonal products with our three farmers that we deal with on a regular basis. We cook for the seasons. In the summer we have light foods and in the winter we have a little heavier fare, supporting the local agriculture."

The menu changes so frequently that when asked what's for lunch or dinner, Chudik would only say that the spicy spaghetti is so popular it's offered regularly. Other than that, he couldn't say what might be available at the time this article is read.

Currently, the restaurant works with three Michigan farms: Melody Bee Farms, Green Wagon Farm, and Real Food Farm. Plus, Chudik says all fish is marine stewardship council-certified from Bensenville, IL-based Fortune Fish.

The restaurant offers a full bar, seats 120 inside, and shares a covered outdoor deck with Bombay Cuisine so patrons can order from either or both.

Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mon. - Thu. 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. Follow them on Facebook here.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Popular East Lansing deli gets a slice of Grand Rapids' entertainment district with first GR store

Menna's Joint, an East Lansing-based deli known for its youthful vibe and giant "dub" burrito-style sandwiches, hopes to get a healthy slice of the restaurant crowd in Grand Rapids' entertainment district with the opening of its first Grand Rapids location at 44 Ionia Ave. SW.

The new store, kitty-corner from HopCat and next to McFadden's, will offer food service and local delivery into the wee hours -- a trend that has helped make its four existing stores successful, says Hank Andries, company owner with Gary Adam.

"We're typically open until 4 a.m. on weekends and will deliver to 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.," Andries says. "We'll be offering delivery, sit-down, and takeout. We'll deliver to the downtown GVSU campus and student housing, and offer our products to the growing business environment downtown."

Menna's Joint will offer is nearly-famous dub sandwiches -- a grilled tortilla overloaded with meat, veggies, and cheeses and wrapped up like a burrito -- but without beans or rice. The menu touts nearly two dozen dubs, including mouthwatering spicy-hot dubs, tasty veggie dubs, and protein-loaded breakfast dubs, as well as salads, soups, and Momma Menna's delectable chocolate chip cookies.

Andries says the decision to open Menna's Joint locations in college towns near the campuses (MSU, Western Michigan, GVSU, Central Michigan University) fits with the eatery's youthful, student-oriented brand, which he says attracts the young and the young-at-heart.

The Grand Rapids location will open mid-October.

Source: Hank Andries, Menna's Joint
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
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