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Hungry? Two burgeoning local groups point you to the city's best eats

What began as one man's Facebook group has turned into a delicious resource for thousands of hungry -- and thirsty -- Grand Rapids residents. As the city boasts an ever-growing list of culinary choices, Tiffany Ewigleben discovers how EatGR and DrinkGR connect people around the table.
With new restaurants being announced and opening seemingly every week in and around Grand Rapids, it's tough to keep track of dining options these days. (It's a good problem to have.) From tacos to tony cocktails, breweries to bakeries, and neighborhood favorites to big-name chains, there's something for everyone, and the scene is constantly growing and changing.

Luckily, the city that's full of good food is also full of generous people who love Grand Rapids – those who, in their own way, strive to make our city more connected and share the goodness it has to offer. Mark Curtis and Christopher Freeman are two such folks. A love and appreciation of the diversity of eats and drinks available in West Michigan drives them in their off-hours pursuits as administrators and curators of two growing Facebook groups (and websites), DrinkGR and EatGR.

It sounds simplistic: a Facebook group? Who cares? Well, how many of us check our feed at least a few times a day? An easy way to stay connected and share similar interests, Facebook is a useful tool that’s accessible to almost anyone looking to connect with the food community, and may help you uncover some unknown gems as well.

Eat GR started in April of 2012. Freeman’s real job as a Realtor kept him in his car, showing houses and traveling all over West Michigan. When lunch time rolled around and he found himself in an unfamiliar area, what was he to do but stop and eat?

Curiosity got the best of Freeman, and every little hole in the wall (starting with Isaacs on Coit, which is no longer there) was an opportunity to try something new, something different. “I started paying attention. Here’s a restaurant I’ve never seen; maybe these places aren’t on others' radar as well.”

EatGR spawned out of this interest, with nothing more about each restaurant than some photos and a few sentences about the food and locale. On March 5th of this year, 2000 people were following the group. Now that number is quickly approaching 10,000. 

EatGR is simple, the goal being ‘to promote restaurants in West Michigan so people are aware of their local restaurant options over what is provided by national chains.’ Exposure is the goal, and the group lets people find new and interesting eating options they might not otherwise have been aware of. Ground rule one is (and always will be, according to Freeman) 'be nice.' What EatGR is not is a restaurant review site, which can be a point of contention for some. The natural human inclination is to share your experience, and Facebook provides a perfect outlet to rant if you are angry, but negativity doesn’t serve a purpose here.

“We know sometimes dining experience can be disappointing and it is important that your concerns are heard," says Freeman. "If you have a bad local restaurant experience, you are best served to bring the issue to the attention of the restaurant management. It accomplishes a couple of things. One, the managers get the vital feedback that they need to fix the issue. Two, people who do not bring their concerns to the manager obviously thought that is was not enough of an issue to do so.”

All of this communication opens relationships between consumer and restaurateur, chef and staff. Questions are posed daily on the site -- ‘Where can I get REAL Chinese food? I’m really craving a pupusa - where should I go?’ -- and everyone is happy to provide an answer, from local citizens who have hunted down the out-of-the-way spots like Chuancai Fang or Pupuseria El Salavdor, to even the restaurant owners or many chefs who are part of the group.

Coupled with fairly regular giveaways, treats for city-wide events like Restaurant Week, monthly foodie ‘Meet-ups’ and Foodnamis (where Chris takes a group of people out to a local spot for goodies if he sells a house), EatGR is active both on and off the interwebs. A new companion website, EatGR.com, exists to expand on the limitations of the Facebook group and provide a solid, searchable web presence for all things eats in West Michigan.

EatGR’s adult beverage companion group, DrinkGR, started a little after EatGR’s launch. Posting pictures of all the good Michigan beer Mark Curtis was drinking didn’t necessarily fit the schema of EatGR. Soon, liquid libation got its own dedicated group page, with a little over 4,000 members today.

The purpose of DrinkGR is to promote Grand Rapids' and West Michigan's craft beverages. “Beer is prevalent because we’re Beer City USA,” shares Curtis, “but we are also getting into meads, ciders, craft spirits and wines. Our discussion area stays within the shoreline, in order to be more inclusive to the number of wineries and breweries we have in the region.”

DrinkGR also promotes locally owned bottle shops -- any place you can find good Michigan craft beverages in the area. “For those who are considering coming to the Grand Rapids area, we want to give them an idea about what the city is like, and what we have to offer in the way of craft beer, spirits, and more,” says Curtis.

Monthly meet-ups provide the opportunity to meet and greet fellow DrinkGR members, taste locally crafted beverages, and win some excellent door prizes. Past meet-ups have occurred at Mitten Brewing, Crankers, and Flat Lander's, just to name a few. Often, if the venue sports good food and adult beverage options, a collaborative meeting will occur with EatGR and DrinkGR.
“I have the mindset that the group is not only a great place for the enthusiast, but also for the businesses who are making the beverages to get the feedback they need,” Curtis says. The future of DrinkGR consists of putting the final touches on DrinkGR.net, with content based on member interest and member contribution.
To learn more about these groups, visit:
Tiffany Ewigleben is a mother, craft brew aficionado, freelance writer, and a true Michigander in her heart, despite being from Washington D.C. She hopes you won't hold that against her.

Photography by Adam Bird
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