For the better part of a decade now, Alex and Sy Wilkening have been careful to build their savings, putting away money from their day jobs as a computer programmer and career bartender/manager, respectively, to build a dream that’s been 10 years in the making.
“It got to the point where we’d wake up and say, you know, ‘another day another dollar, back to the grind,” says Alex, who met his wife Sy in the restaurant business years back. “We just got sick of saying that, and you can only wake up and dread going to your day job for [so] long.”
As of Oct. 7, the Wilkenings dream has finally become a reality with the grand opening of Grain Sandwich Shop, located on the Grand Rapids’ Westside at 812 Butterworth Street.
Leasing the 1000-square-foot storefront from Bluefin Ventures, the Wilkenings partnered with Grand Apps for the their logo and website design—a clean and minimal aesthetic that matches the interior of their news digs.
“We wanted it to feel comfortable and simple, almost like a minimalistic feel, but still very warm. There are some natural brick tones and a lot of natural wood in the space. It’s homey, industrial, and shabby chic all at the same time,” says Alex, adding that he wanted to bring a much-needed quick lunch option to the Westside neighborhood that felt comfortable, with he and Sy as the accessible owners and chefs working behind the counter in an open kitchen concept.
“It’s designed to be very inviting and customer forward,” he says.
After signing the lease on the space in March, they took over the interior as a “white box,” or completely blank slate, and Alex handled most of the renovation himself to cut down on costs.
He says he and Sy chose to open their sandwich shop on the Westside not only to fill a gap in an underserved market, but also because of a kinship they feel with the residents and community members who live, work, and shop there.
“We’ve had a bunch of experiences with the west side throughout our young lives,” he says, including a house they used to own by Richmond Park and close friends they have who have grew up on the Westside. “It’s a place with genuine people who are super friendly and super nice. There’s a Midwestern friendliness attached to them and they’re approachable—that’s what we like about it and we wanted to support a neighborhood that’s friendly and likable and would in turn support us and create that relationship with the community.”
Serving all Michigan-made food products—including Nantucket Bread, Visser Farms produce, Sobie Meats, and Grilla Grills sauce and dry rub, the menu consists of eight sandwiches with “seasonal flare and regional flavors.”
Alex says he also wants to be sure to recognize Two Scotts BBQ, who met with him on a few occasions to help guide he and Sy through the process of building a successful business.
Open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday’s grand opening event was met with success, with the husband and wife team pushing out around 225 sandwiches on their first operational day.
“It was really more than we expected, to be honest—the outpour of support from friends and family and the rest of the neighborhood was really quite incredible,” he says.
For more information on Grain Sandwich Shop, visit www.eatgrain.com or find Grain Sandwich Shop on Facebook.
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grain Sandwich Shop