Aaron Burrows overflows with a passion for food, specifically where it comes from and how it’s prepared. Through nearly a decade of working in restaurants -- three of those years as an executive chef -- Burrows became so passionate about healthy food that he decided he didn’t want to keep his discoveries to himself. Out of his desire to introduce people to quality locally farmed food, he and his wife, Amber, recently opened up their own restaurant, The Kitch’Room
, a farm to table restaurant in Cascade.
“Our daughter is actually the one that named the place,” says Burrows. "She’s three and she has spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my wife and I and she could never pronounce [kitchen], so she always called it Kitch’Room.”
Burrows has always enjoyed cooking, but it took working at Salt of the Earth
in Fennville to really jumpstart his passion to become more knowledgeable about food and how to prepare it with care.
“The owners, Matt Peach and Jesse Haan, taught me that you should be respecting what you’re working with and it’s not just throwing a bunch of stuff in a pan and calling it food,” says Burrows. “You have to heat the pan up first, add the oil, then add the onions and build from there. It’s always building. There’s a definite process to it.”
Burrows admits that he always had a desire to do things right when it came to food preparation, but he had to learn that there was a right way to do things and a wrong way. What Peach and Haan taught him was a better method of cooking with the best local food products available.
When he moved to Grand Rapids he became the executive chef at Graydon’s Crossing
where he started applying the lessons he learned at Salt of Earth.
“I started processing my own animals and breaking them down in house and doing a lot of different things with that and working locally,” says Burrows. “That’s where I developed a lot of relationships with farmers.”
Eventually, he and his wife decided to take the leap and start their own business with an emphasis on simplicity and preparing meals from scratch utilizing local seasonal fare.
“We were just ready to go for it ourselves and have total control of what goes on,“ says Burrows. “Just being able to do honest food and telling the truth on where my food is coming from and how I am preparing it.”
Originally, he was going to try to do a food truck and was looking for investors when his friend Ryan Cappelletti, a chef and founder of Bartertown Diner
, advised him that if he was going to try to raise $60,000 in capital for a food truck, why not do a restaurant instead. Burrows saw the wisdom in this idea and quickly switched gears, scrapping his original business plan and writing a new one. While pursuing investors, he found an ideal space in The Cascade Center that was available.
“I just came in and met the owner of the building and I said I don’t have any money, this is my concept, this is what I want to do. I shared my business plan with him and he said, 'okay, well let’s give it a try,'” says Burrows.
There was very little money to start so Aaron and Amber reached out to friends and family and wound up with a lot of time, energy, and items like cutlery and plates donated.
“Our silverware is all mismatched,” says Burrows, almost as a point of pride, “and our plates don’t match.”
The random assortment of utensils and dishes are not the only things that make the place feel like a family home kitchen. The Burrows' daughter, Sage, is known to entertain children dining in with their parents and you can find their son, Jasper, strapped to Amber’s back while she bakes. Even the staff are like a close-knit family, probably because most of them are related.
“I have family that works together in the front as well -- two [of my] sisters work in the front of the house,” says Burrows. “One of my guys that works in the back, his sister works in the front as well. So, I mean, we’re all very close.”
In an effort to stay transparent and stick to their mission of "honest food," there is a large chalkboard behind the counter listing the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu items for that day. The menu, which includes at least one vegan or vegetarian dish for each mealtime, changes weekly and sometimes daily depending on what’s available locally. Recently, Burrows took tomatoes off the menu because he couldn’t find locally grown tomatoes in state.
“The chalkboard helps keep us true to our word with being fresh and local,” says Burrows. “It’s all off of a farm. You can drive and get it if you want to.”
There are a lot of obstacles to overcome in starting a small business, but for the Burrows, one of the biggest challenges is their location. It would have made sense for the Burrows to open their restaurant in Eastown or Downtown Grand Rapids where there are already concentrated pockets of restaurants offering good, local food. But they were intentional in setting up shop across town in Cascade, an area that is dominated by chain restaurants.
“I thought we would be doing a good service to Grand Rapids by being over here on the other side of town,” says Burrows. “As far as I know, [Kitch’Room is] the only restaurant in the area that’s offering a good, honest, healthy alternative. We really do get all of our food from farms in Michigan and process everything in house. I have an open door in my kitchen, come in [and] take a peak. I’ll talk to anybody at any time. Answer any questions that they have. I just would want the people of Grand Rapids to know that and then give me a shot.
Jonathan Stoner is a photographer, writer, film buff, audio book enthusiast, world traveler, foodie, and a cliff jumper (both literally and figuratively).
Photographs by Adam Bird