And Kingfisher makes three: That Early Bird proprietors settle in at the center of the universe

With three birds in her restaurant nest, Sarah Wepman’s plates are literally full, which leaves her little time for conversations with media. When Rapid Growth was finally able to finagle one, she had just returned from delivering a tongue sandwich to Itzhak Perlman. He was in town to play Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins” with Randall Goosby and conduct the Grand Rapids Symphony in Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique.” The sandwich had been freshly made at the Kingfisher Restaurant and Deli, 1001 Lake Dr. SE. Wepman and her husband/chef, Joel Wabeke, added the eatery as the third of a perfect pair last July. That Early Bird Café, 1445 Lake Drive SE, has been operating in the former Kava House space in Eastown since 2016. The Littlebird, 95 Monroe Center, opened downtown in 2017.

“The nice things about all our locations, they really fit a varying demographic. We’ll see a family sitting next to a business meeting next to a [a couple on a] date next to friends getting together. We’ve really been striving to have places that fill any function for all people,” Wepman says. “It warms my heart that we can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”

Operating within the former space of Grand Rapids’ iconic Marie Catrib’s, Kingfisher currently offers an eclectic breakfast, brunch, and lunch menu, as well as a tantalizing array of ready-to-go deli delicacies that include a wide variety of boxed meals, a multitude of cold staples like hummus, and a sweet assortment of pastries and cakes.

“People just want to eat their way through the deli cases,” Wepman says. “Our landlords [Paul and Louie Cares] from That Early Bird purchased the building with the hope that we would put a new restaurant in there. They’ve been very supportive of what we’ve been doing. We’re very aware of the history and the large shoes to fill. We are not attempting to be Marie Catrib. We miss her. But we are excited to bring another community meeting place to the center of our portion of town.”

(If it seemed like that quote should have ended with the words “center of the universe,” no worries. Reb Roberts’ original Center of the Universe sign now hangs inside over the Kingfisher’s deli.)

Inspired by the Mediterranean cuisines of southern Europe, North Africa, and Turkey, all three restaurants emphasize locally sourced, healthy, seasonal foods with tasty options for customers who prefer vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free selections. Kingfisher also offers house-made elixirs — currently autumn spiced and blueberry-lavender sodas and beet shrub — as well as “super juices,” juiced to order. Additional beverages will make the scene by the end of the year when the liquor license comes through and hours are expanded to include dinner.

“Most of all, we’re happy about becoming a part of the neighborhood where we live,” Wepman says. “We are looking for Kingfisher to continue to build strong ties with our neighbors and give them a delicious place to spend time with their loved ones.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Kingfisher.

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