This is an installment in Local First’s Measure What Matters series where Local First Members who have taken the Quick Impact Assessment are interviewed and asked how the assessment has helped them use their business as a force for good and be Good for Grand Rapids.
Started by a group of Calvin College alumni back in the 1993, River City Improv has been making Grand Rapids residents laugh for over 20 years. Since its inception, River City Improv has evolved into a comedy group that’s passionate about making a positive difference in West Michigan through fun and witty humor.
“We love making people laugh – it’s how we give back to the community,” said Rick Treur, co-founder and business manager for River City Improv. “Many of our performers also make a positive difference by donating their time and talents to various nonprofits around Grand Rapids.”
River City Improv entertains audiences using comedic improvisation. Many of their shows weave together skits, games, and songs with audience suggestions to create a unique show every time. Hosting approximately 20 public shows and up to 40 private shows per year, River City Improv still makes time for volunteering. Some of the ways they give back are by performing volunteer shows or donating free passes to nonprofits for auctions. If a performer is involved with a nonprofit, they can also donate a performance to the organization of their choice.
River City Improv joined Local First in 2010 and Treur recently took Local First’s Quick Impact Assessment to identify more opportunities for River City Improv to make a positive impact.
“Getting involved with Local First seemed like a natural fit for River City Improv because of our commitment to giving back to the community,” said Treur. “We took the Quick Impact Assessment because we like supporting B Corp values and believe it’s important to be mindful of what we’re doing as a business.”
When taking the Quick Impact Assessment, Treur realized there were many practices that he could be tracking and measuring for River City Improv. One of Treur’s major takeaways from the assessment was learning about the significance of buying local and using sustainable products for their shows.
“Even though we are a small business, the Quick Impact Assessment made me realize that there are things we can do better,” said Treur. “You can make a positive impact in the community no matter the size of your business, field, industry or level of community involvement.”
Treur added that getting involved with Good for Grand Rapids has been a great way to strengthen the community by showing support for local businesses.
“Look around at our local businesses in Grand Rapids and you’ll notice that many of them have a global reach and can have a positive impact on the world,” said Treur. “By using our resources for good and being thoughtful about how we run our business, we can make a difference in our local community, West Michigan and beyond.”
Interested in learning how your business performs against best practices on employee, community and environmental impact? Take the Quick Impact Assessment today to learn how much good your business is doing for the local economy and community at localfirst.com/sustainability/measure-what-matters. Meet these and other values-aligned businesses at the Measure What Matters Workshop on June 21!
Russo’s International Market, located on 29th Street in Grand Rapids but right on the City of Kentwood border, has announced plans to open a second location in downtown Grand Rapids — a return home, of sorts, according to the company’s president.
“Since opening in 1905, my grandfather made it his mission to serve the Grand Rapids community. Our first location was on Division in what was known as ‘Little Italy’,” Phil Russo, president of Russo’s International Market, said in supplied material. “When we needed more room, we opened up on 29th Street. … We always knew we would return to our roots and this second location will allow us to serve the downtown community as we once did 112 years ago.”
The new location is planned for the former Bagger Dave’s location at 241 W. Fulton St. The new location is in the city planning and approval stage at this time. According to a company spokesperson, “there are no plans to close the 29th Street location” with the opening of the downtown location.
The market is also plans to expand its offerings with the new location by adding a restaurant, coffee bar and a gelato bar in addition to the market, deli and beverage products currently available at the 29th Street store.
Russo’s is a family-owned business — for many years it was named “G.B. Russo & Son” — and the family plans to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony and community celebration once approval and construction is finished. Russo’s International Market is currently run by the 3rd and 4th generation of the Russo family.
A big reason for the decision to expand back into downtown, according to a release from the company, is the expansion of residential offerings in the area and other economic factors.
According to the Russo’s release, “with the growing number of downtown residents, the need for retail options within the downtown area is evident.”
According to Downtown Grand Rapids, 183 residential units were added to the downtown Grand Rapids area in 2015, with an additional 1,437 proposed units to be developed shortly after. With the addition of the proposed units, downtown Grand Rapids would house 5,201 residential units. Downtown Grand Rapids’ goal is to reach 10,000 residential units within the downtown area by 2025.
“The Grand Rapids community has been so devoted to our family-business throughout the years, and our goal is to continue to serve the community to the best of our ability, Russo said. “We realized the lack of offerings for downtown residents, and this gave us the opportunity to return to downtown Grand Rapids and serve the growing residential population,” said Russo.
The Fulton Street location is in addition to the store’s existing 18,000 sq. ft. location on 29th Street, which was purchased in 1976, and expanded in 2008. The expansion comes nearly two months after a rebrand to commemorate the company’s historic 112 years in Grand Rapids. For more information visit russosgr.com .
The people behind the counter at the Corner Record Shop, located in Grandville just over the City of Wyoming border and long known as one of Western Michigan best places to browse for used vinyl and CDs, believe every day is Record Store Day.
But that doesn’t stop them from having a big ol’ party on the annual celebration of independent record stores — this year it being Saturday, April 22 — with an annual rush day of new vinyl releases, a bunch of bands in the back room, and a party-like atmosphere for customers familiar and newbie.
A bit of advice for the newbies, however, don’t say something like “vinyl is coming back” unless you want to look like a dork.
“Record Store Day has probably gotten bigger each year, just the number of releases and the people who are aware of it, as far as the public and customers,” said Bruce Parrott, who often works behind the counter for store owner Steve Williamson. “Vinyl has always been the biggest part of this business. People say all the time ‘vinyl is coming back, vinyl is coming back’. It has never left for us.”
So while there will be new vinyl releases to be checked out at the Corner Record Shop, they will also offer up live music.
“A lot of major labels are releasing stuff on Record Store Day, specifically, and the list gets bigger each year as more record labels participating in the day and offering things up,” Parrott said. “But we will have live bands in the back room too.”
Starting at noon — doors open at 11 a.m. for those wanting first crack at new releases — there will be live music until nearly 7 p.m., with local bands and musicians on stage including, in scheduled order, The Other Brothers, Dangerville, Jake Stevens Band, Tired Blood, Oliver Draper, Nate, Devin and The Dead Frets. (For video of some of the bands set to play, visit the store’s Facebook page.)
Whether is is Record Store Day, or any day, the Corner Record Shop is a microcosm of the not-so-new resurgence of vinyl, and part of is the fountain of knowledge of the staff on the subject.
“New vinyl is better, in most cases,” Parrott said. “The majority of releases come out on what is called 180 gram vinyl, which is a thicker, heavier, sturdier vinyl. Better made than they were — there are some ’70s RCA records, when they were going Dynaflex, you could bend in half almost. The quality of stuff coming out is really good.”
Great vinyl is coming out no matter what the genre of music, and trying to pigeonhole the genre of the store’s customers is a fool’s game.
“Just when you do that, then something, somebody changes your mind,” Parrott said. “We have a lot of shoppers of every genre. Obviously, classical listeners are getting a little older, so there is probably less of them then there are in the other genres. There is a lot of jazz people who look for new vinyl; definitely classic rock, the stuff that is getting reissued — everywhere from Prince to Led Zeppelin. We sell a lot of new vinyl of every genre.”
And, while most used vinyl (and CDs) are not all that expensive, depending on taste, rarity and how big a box set, there are exceptions.
“Just two months ago, they re-released all the George Harrison albums, every single one, those also came in a boxed set, which was $450. We sold one — one,” Parrott said. “We also have had (rare) albums that we have had priced at $400, that we put behind the wall (for protection) and sold them.”
Record Store Day started in 2008 as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1,400 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally, according to its website. In 2008, a small list of titles was released on Record Store Day but that list has grown to include artists and labels both large and small. In 2015, 60 percent of the Record Store Day Official Release List came from independent labels and distributors.
Corner Record Shop is located at 3562 Chicago Dr SW, Grandville. For more information on events at Corner Record Shop, list them on Facebook @crs.grandville or call 616-531-6578.
Family-owned Italian grocer, G.B. Russo & Son, has announced a rebrand to commemorate the company’s history dating back to 1905.
For 112 years the Russo family has been committed to the Grand Rapids community by offering one of the largest selection of wine and gourmet food; craft beer and liquor, kitchenware, homemade Italian entrees and more. G.B. Russo & Son will now be known as Russo’s International Market. Russo’s will host a variety of giveaways, in-store events, and promotions spanning over a three-month period. A community celebration will be held in May.
“My grandfather left Montelepre, Sicily at the age of 17 and by 20 years of age had opened his first store in East Grand Rapids,” said Phil Russo, President of Russo’s International Market.
“He made it his mission to serve the community and fed many through the Great Depression regardless of background or race. He was an entrepreneur and risk-taker and in spite of natural disasters, the Great Depression and race riots, the store continued to prosper and expand to make us what we are today.”
In 2008, the business doubled the size of the store to 18,000 square feet and expanded parking at the 29th Street location. Today, the store has a 45-foot deli case with over 300 meats and cheeses from around the world, olives, fresh baked breads, oils, private label pastas and sauces, homemade Villa Russo frozen entrees, a vast selection of craft beers and liquor, thousands of wines, kitchenware and more.
Russo’s International Market is currently run by the 3rd and 4th generation of the family and in the past few years the business has expanded to include:
Catering for events, business meetings and more
Custom corporate gifts
In-store educational beverage tasting events and more
A large selection of Michigan and Grand Rapids products
Additional private-labeled items
Expanded homemade products such as sandwiches, dips, sauces, breads and more
“In honor of our anniversary we will share history on Grand Rapids in the 1900s while celebrating the present and future endeavors,” said Kelley Russo of Russo’s International Market.
“It is our goal to constantly reinvent ourselves as my great-grandfather would’ve encouraged us to do.”
Historic Items of Note:
In 1908, Giovanni Russo moved the store to Division near Franklin. This area was once known as Little Italy. At that location, he owned apartments, Roma Dance Hall, Grand Rapid’s first pizzeria, a pasta-making factory, and warehouse.
In 1914, a near kidnapping of his 18-month-old daughter by the Black Hands Gang was thwarted by the Russo nanny. The gang went on to threaten and harass the family until the Grand Rapids City Police were able to build a case, with Giovanni’s help. The Grand Rapids Press wrote an article dated Nov. 5, 2914, that stated: “It was through Russo’s activities and his disregard for the Black Hand warning that enabled police to capture the gang.”
Russo established Roma Hall above the store on Division during the Great Depression and prohibition era. Throughout the Hall’s history, Giovanni rented it to anyone, regardless of ethnicity or status, for dances, weddings, dinners and jam sessions featuring the likes of Ray Charles and Jimmy Reed.
Known musicians such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Mary Wells performed for Roma Hall audiences in the 1950s and 60s.
Due to Giovanni’s acceptance of all races and economic backgrounds, his was the only business on the block not burned down during the race riots of the 1960s.
It is infuriating when so-called ‘pet-owners’ move out and leave their cat (or dog behind), but when winter is in full force and they toss their pet outside to fend for themselves, well we find that selfish act unforgiveable. Luckily a rescuer was hot on the trail of a homeless tail attached to a very striking and saucy girl who wanted back indoors in the worst kinda way. She scooped her up, creating a cozy bed for her in the garage for the night (she has over a dozen kitties of her own so it wasn’t feasible to bring her into her actual home) until she could bring her to the clinic on Dec. 6, 2016.
At first the red patch tabby (born in the summer of 2013) was none too pleased being temporarily caged at the clinic, so Dr. Jen let her acclimate overnight, which helped adjust her cattitude immensely. Canned food proved to be the gateway to her soul, and by the next morning Dr. Jen was able to work her up to get her program-ready. With the exception of fleas, Kate Spayed, as Dr. Jen dubbed her, was a pretty healthy girl—thank goodness!
Once at Crash’s the diva that is Kate surfaced — she grumped, grumbled and groaned when any other inquisitive feline got too close to her personal space. One-on-one with the humans is another story — she is delightful, possessing the charm and manners of a sophisticated lady, but in the presence of those of her own kind, Kate tends to show her less than purrsonable side, getting overwhelmed quite easily and issuing warning bites so everyone knows to leave her alone. For that reason, we feel that our gorgeous gal should go into a home without any other cats or small children who may not understand her cues when she has simply had enough.
Don’t get me wrong, as she is a lovely cat who wants nothing more than to be loved—and to love on her person once again; she doesn’t understand why she was tossed out like trash, she doesn’t understand why her people chose not to love her anymore. What Kate DOES understand is that she is currently bunking with over 40 other cats who want to tickle her whiskers, snuggle up beside her and make friends, but she simply doesn’t have that desire in her. Plain and simple, she just wants a person to cherish her and make her feel comfortable and secure again—and we feel that is not too much to ask for at all; after all, Kate deserves to be a valued furry family member!
Want to adopt Kate Spayed? Learn about the adoption process here. Fill out a pre-adoption form here.
Can’t adopt, but still want to help? Find out how you can sponsor a cat!
Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary have a common mission: To take at-risk stray cats off the streets of the Greater Grand Rapids area, provide them with veterinary care and house them in free-roaming, no-kill facilities until dedicated, loving, permanent homes can be found.
Steelcase and Microsoft Corp. have joined forces to explore the future of work, developing a range of technology-enabled spaces designed to help organizations foster creative thinking and better collaboration. These spaces seamlessly integrate the best of Microsoft Surface devices with Steelcase architecture and furniture. Today the companies unveiled five new “Creative Spaces” showcasing how Steelcase and Microsoft can help organizations unlock creativity for every employee.
That Microsoft is expanding its partner network into the world of design by bringing in select Steelcase dealers as authorized Surface Hub resellers.
Steelcase and Microsoft are working together to develop technology-enabled workplace solutions built on Microsoft Azure IoT technology.
“The problems people face at work today are much more complex than they used to be. They require a new creative way of thinking and a very different work process,” says Sara Armbruster, vice president of strategy, research and new business innovation for Steelcase.
“We believe that everyone has the capacity for creative thinking, and people are happier doing creative, productive work. Together, Microsoft and Steelcase will help organizations thoughtfully integrate place and technology to encourage creative behaviors at work.”
The companies’ exploration of creative work found that creativity is a process in which anyone can engage and requires diverse work modes as well as different types of technology. People need to work alone, in pairs and in different size groups throughout a creative process, and they need a range of devices that are mobile and integrated into the physical workplace. Additionally, spaces should inspire people without compromising performance.
For more information on Creative Spaces and the partnership between Microsoft and Steelcase, go here or here.
Following the City of Kentwood’s special City Commission meeting Monday, held as the kickoff event of the year-long Kentwood 50 celebration of the city’s 50th anniversary, the reception was held at Railtown Brewing Company and the beer of choice was — naturally — a golden ale brewed with a touch of mango.
Two reasons for the beer being the natural choice of the celebration: a 50-year anniversary is considered a “golden” anniversary, and the brew was the pick of some staff at the city’s Park and Recreation Department, which has, shall we say, a relationship with the 2-year-old Railtown.
The addition of the mango flavor? Well, the parks people also liked it so that was good enough for the brewery.
“A lot of the Kentwood Parks and Recreation Department are actually mug clubbers here, they have a mug on the wall over there, they are just regulars,” said Gim Lee, who along with his partner Justin Buiter opened the brewery in late 2014. “They are friends and they asked if we would like to do something special (for the anniversary celebration) and we said ‘absolutely.’
“A group of them came, we sat down and collaborated on what they were celebrating and what kind of beer would work with that. They threw a whole bunch of different styles on the table, what they might want to try. They, as a team, actually landed on the golden ale — this is their golden 50th — and the mango being a golden fruit, that would be a perfect pairing. They wanted something unique and mango is a flavor not used too frequently.”
Railtown is located at 3555 68th St., in Dutton but just across the border with Kentwood. Since it opened it has grown to be a 3,500-square-foot space at the east end of the Village Mall plaza. The brewery’s tap room has 10 taps and usually 10 different brews available, and it has started to distribute kegs to other restaurants.
While the special Kentwood 50 brew was tapped at Monday’s invite-only opening ceremony reception, Lee said it would be available to the public — just maybe not until they brew up some more.
“We will have it on and off throughout the year, so people should be able to come in here and get it through the rest of the week — assuming we do not blow it out that first night,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Also debuting on the night of the reception were growlers with a special logo, which are part of the brewery’s continuing support of the Kentwood 50 event. The brewery will be donating a portion of its growler sales as the celebration continues.
“We are raising some money for the parks and recreation department by doing this,” Lee said. “When you buy a growler, we will be donating a couple bucks back to parks and recreation every time you fill that growler, regardless of what beer it is. It doesn’t have to be the golden ale. This will be an on-going promotion.”
As far as the process of developing the new brew, Lee admitted it was pretty much like Railtown decides on any beer it brews — they like to drink it, so they know other people will like to like to drink it. Although, he said, this time they had to satisfy more tastebuds than just the staff’s.
“We have brewed golden ales, we have done a lot of that. That part is easy,” he said. “We took a different golden ale, we racked it off to what is called a firkin, a 10-gallon cask, it is an old-fashioned way of serving beer. In the firkin you can dose whatever you want in it, that is part of the fun of using a firkin — you can add a little fruit, extra hops, a little coffee, whatever you want. It is a really good way to experiment with different flavors. … based on that, that flavor profile, we can scale it up to a bigger scale” for brewing.
“The (Kentwood 50) beer has been done for quite a while, and that was intentional,” he said. “I wanted to make sure if they did not like it at all, I would have time to brew something else if I had to. Its been done for a month. They came in and tried it, and I tried it, and my brewers tried it. We all thought it was pretty nice.”
For more information on Railtown Brewing Company, call the taproom at 616-881-2364 or visit railtownbrewing.com (leads to a Facebook page).
Did you know that the average person will change careers five to seven times in a lifetime? Not just a new job, but a completely new field. For example, leaving a marketing position for accounting or moving from manufacturing to retail.
Why do workers change careers so often? Sometimes it has to do with frustration in a current job. Other times, a business closure or downsizing forces a move. A lifestyle change can leave workers needing more time at home or a larger salary. As workers mature, they better understand their talents and interests.
Whatever the reason, multiple career changes is the norm in today’s workforce. So, how can you do it successfully?
Understand yourself. Take time for self-reflection. What are your passions, strengths and weaknesses? Not sure where to begin? Consider taking a personality test, like the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment, to get started.
Find the right fit. Once you understand your skills and personal preferences, start exploring your options. There are many good career exploration sites online like Pure Michigan Talent Connect. Their Career Explorer page has tools that match your interests and skills with the best career for you.
Prepare. Research the position you want to transition into. Are your current skills transferable? Do you need additional training or education? Consider volunteering in the field. You can gain knowledge and make connections.
Network. Speaking of connections, do you know anyone who is already working in the field? Would they be willing to provide a reference, or do they know of current job openings? Join a professional network in the field and attend local networking events. Prepare a strong elevator speech to let your new connections know why you want a new career.
Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit westmiworks.org or your local Service Center.
The Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Government Matters Committee meeting will be Monday, Feb. 13, from 8-9 a.m. at Wyoming City Hall, 1155 28th St SW, at the corner of 28th and Michael Avenue SW.
The meetings alternate between Wyoming City Hall and Kentwood City Hall.
The meeting, where chamber officials meet with local, county and state government officials, is free and open to the public. It will also be recorded by WKTV community television for viewing.
The Feb. 13 meeting will be delayed broadcast on WKTV community television Channel 26 on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. until the next Government Matters Committee meeting. It is also available on-demand at wktv.viebit.com
Chick-fil-A this week will open its second Western Michigan restaurant in the New Year, with a new Wyoming location set to open Thursday, Feb. 9, at 700 54th St. S.W., in front of the Meijer supermarket at 54th and Clyde Park Drive SW. The fast-food chain opened a restaurant in Gaines Township in January.
As with its Gaines Township opening, the Wyoming restaurant will feature a community “First 100” camp out, where people camp out and wait in line to earn one of the 100 prizes of a year of free Chick-fil-A food, as well as an opportunity to donate books to the Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids.
The family-friendly overnight First 100 party at the Gaines Township opening had 66 people get in line at the 24-hour mark despite the early evening freezing rain and snow flurries that continued through the next morning, according to supplied material.
This community event is open to guests residing in specific zip codes surrounding the restaurant. A complete listing of eligible zip codes and rules can be found at www.chick-fil-a.com/Locations/Openings
The donated books will be placed in a nearly 3-foot Book House, built from reclaimed wood, to serve as a free library exchange and will be given to the Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids. Since 2014, Chick-fil-A has collected more than 33,500 children’s books which have been donated to 213 local organizations in 42 states and Washington, D.C., according to supplied material.
The Wyoming restaurant is the second of three scheduled to open in Western Michigan within six weeks of each other. The first opened Jan. 12, in Gaines Township off the M-6 and Kalamazoo Exit. The third location is opening Feb. 23, in Portage/Kalamazoo at 6202 S. Westnedge Ave.
In this lightning-paced, online world, one of a business’s greatest challenges is to get noticed and set itself apart from a plethora of similar businesses. No mean feat — the Internet is a bottomless sea of noise, images and information.
One only need look at co-founders Jonathan and Beth Mast’s foundational values to understand what sets Valorous Circle apart from its competitors.
‘We don’t really look for a lot of accolades other than from our clients’
“Obviously, a website has to work — no one is going to use a website that doesn’t work,” said Beth Mast, Owner and Chief Operating Office of Valorous Circle. “But beyond that, it has to be able to engage with the actual client’s audience. That was the primary focus that we began from.
“From there one thing that makes us very unique is that we give our clients full access to their website where that’s not typical. And we’re here to support them, to empower our clients to know that this is their asset, this is their website.”
The Masts work very closely in the community with nonprofits, ministries and primarily with businesses throughout the area, helping them create an online presence that “creates credibility for their business and then drives traffic to their website and more importantly, the right traffic,” said Jonathan Mast, Founder and Chief Internet Strategist. “We don’t just want to provide the client with a pretty website. We want to provide them with a website that’s going to appeal to their target audience.”
It is against this backdrop that the Masts received word that Valorous Circle was being honored as the Chamber’s 2016 Service Business of the Year.
“We don’t really look for a lot of accolades other than from our clients, obviously,” said Jonathan. “We just feel real honored that the Chamber is recognizing the work we’re doing in the community and showing some appreciation. We’re thrilled, very honored.”
The folks at Valorous Circle are big believers that a company should be involved in the communities where it does business.
“And although we are based in Grand Rapids, we do work throughout West Michigan and as a result of that, we’re members of the Wyoming/Kentwood Chamber, among other chambers, because we want to be part of that community,” Jonathan said. “We want to give back.”
Valorous Circle has come a long way since its humble beginnings, in a chilly basement.
“We currently have 10 employees, 11 if you count our dog, Yoshi, who is our Barketing Director and Happiness Hero,” said Beth. “We have employees that are in sales and marketing, we have developers and support and doing website design, project managers and marketers.”
Jonathan said the Wyoming Chamber does a fantastic job of understanding that a company’s first and primarily goal is to serve and at the same time make a fair profit.
“The Chamber is very focused on helping us become better businesses, become more involved in the community and do a better job of reaching that community, Jonathan said. They help promote each of the businesses that are members and encourage networking and collaboration among the members.
‘Our involvement with the Chamber is mutually beneficial’
“My grandfather taught me many years ago that a rising tide raises all boats. And it’s part of how we do business, it’s part of what we really respect about the chamber, that they understand that concept. That the better the area is doing, whether that’s the individual community, whether that’s the businesses in the community, or whether that’s other aspects related to that, it helps everybody out.
“And so by creating a stronger community, whether that’s a jobs area, whether that’s a business community, whether that’s better networking, whether it’s better collaboration between nonprofits and business, that rising tide benefits every single individual, and organization within the area and I think that that’s one of the things I’m so thankful that I learned early on and we’re really thankful for that the chamber seems to embody.”
With more than half a century of doing business in the Wyoming-Kentwood area, and more than 2,500 employee as part of the family, Lacks Enterprises, Inc. is the Wyoming Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Manufacturer of the Year.
Lacks Enterprises will be one of three businesses honored at the chamber’s 36th Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner on Friday, Jan. 27, at the Crossroads Conference Center in Grand Rapids.
Lacks Enterprises, headquartered in Kentwood, was started by John P. Lacks and son Richard Lacks Sr., and is still a family-focused company now led by CEO Richard Lacks Jr. and executive vice president Kurt Lacks.
“We are a privately held company,” Jim Green, Executive Director of Human Resources, said. “We have been in business in the Wyoming and Kentwood area for over 55 years. The third and fourth generation of the Lacks family are still active in the business. We employe approximately 2,700 employees … Approximately $450 million in sales.
“We mold, plate, paint and assemble parts for the automative and appliance industry,” he said. “If you are looking for our real call to fame, we are the best in the world at providing high quality, Class A decorative finishes for the automotive industry.”
Lacks has 19 manufacturing sites in the Kentwood-Wyoming area and 26 total buildings “if you add in our lab, our warehouses, our medical clinics and our corporate offices,” Green said.
Long, productive relationship with chamber
Lacks history not only goes back more than 50 years, its relationship with the chamber also goes back to its beginning as well.
“The Kentwood-Wyoming chamber truly is a partnership with manufacturing, they have been partners with us for the 55 years we have been in business,” Green said. “There has been countless times we have needed their assistance, whether it was a tax abatement or dealing with the city on an issue, or dealing with Lansing (state government), and the have always been there.
“They understand the importance of a strong manufacturing community to make your whole community successful. The positive business environment has been instrumental in our continued growth over the last 55 years. If you did not have that kind of support, you couldn’t keep growing your business. The Kentwood community also provides a very high quality and diverse workforce, which is crucial to your success as a business.”
While Lacks is one of West Michigan’s manufacturing success stories, it still is humbled and thankful for the Chamber award and for its place among the leading businesses in the region.
“It is a privilege and an honor” to gain the award, Green said. “There are a lot of high quality manufacturers in the Kentwood-Wyoming area, so for us to be recognized as the manufacturer of the year, it is very meaningful and very important to the Lacks family and to our Lacks employees.
“I think it reinforces the quality of company we have, the contributions we do make to the community,” he said. “We are the fourth largest private employer in West Michigan, so for us to be recognized and for our peers to see us be recognized for what we do, it matters. We are pretty humble as a company, we are privileged and honored to be recognized.”
Late last year, the City of Wyoming signed an agreement with Franklin Partners, based in the Chicago area but with an office in Grand Rapids, to ramp-up redevelopment of an abandoned General Motors metal stamping plant, the Site36 industrial area off 36th Street SW just east of Highway 131.
While the company is pushing forward with a marketing campaign, including drawings depicting multiple possible industrial uses and building layouts for possible sales or lease of portions of the about 92-acre property, Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt says the city’s goals have not changed — they want the land redeveloped into industrial uses to take advantage of already in-place infrastructure.
The city also continues to be motivated to work with businesses looking at the site, including tax incentives and other actions.
“We are not looking for leasing options; we are looking for sales,” Holt said this week. “That doesn’t mean the Franklin Partners will not offer that as an option with them holding ownership of a particular site. The purpose of the marketing material is more about showing people what is possible and opening potential owners eyes to ideas that they may not have considered.”
Also according to Franklin Partners marketing materials, “The City of Wyoming is motivated to attract new jobs and can offer significant state and local tax incentives to attract large users to the site. … The City has also indicated that it is willing to provide an industrial facilities tax abatement (IFT) for future industrial development. This allows for a nearly 50% abatement of future property taxes on new buildings for up to twelve (12) years. The existence of both a brownfield plan and the City’s expressed willingness to work with future owners/tenants on these and other incentives sets this site apart from others.”
Holt says the incentives are also nothing new, as far as the city’s efforts to redevelop the site.
“This city has a track record of being very supportive of our business community,” Holt said. “We all have maintained the same principles about Site 36 from the very beginning. Our main goal is jobs, specifically quality jobs available to our residents. With jobs, other indirect benefits will be realized by the city.”
The site, with about 80 acres of “contiguous, shovel ready, manufacturing infrastructure,” according to Franklin Partners, is between Clay and Buchanan avenues south of 36th. According to multiple sources, it was purchased by the city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority in 2010, after GM closed the plant in 2006 ending nearly 70 years of operation.
According to Holt, the City Council has had no additional discussion with Franklin Partners “since the agreement was executed to work with them as the developer of the site,” but “I know that Franklin Partners is continuing to work on marketing, site preparation and generating potential contacts as they begin to market the site.”
Franklin reportedly plans to remove a pedestrian bridge over 36th Street, built to connect the GM plant to a parking lot north of 36th Street, as well as to clean up the site after years of accumulated undergrowth and debris.
According to Franklin Partners marketing materials, the site — in addition to its access to US-131 and the Grand Elk Railroad yard — has its own Consumers Energy sub-station with up to 41 megawatt of dedicated power at T-1 rates, and can accommodate new facilities from 100,000 square feet up to 1,000,000 square feet. High-pressure natural gas and municipal water and sewer are also available on-site.
The city had been working with local entries The Right Place and NAI Wisinski, but, after being on the market for about four years, leaders expect that bringing Franklin Partners into the mix will get the effort moving once again.
“Franklin Partners’ history and reputation in West Michigan are very good,” Holt said. “We have worked with Franklin Partners on several projects and found them to be professional, knowledgeable and well connected. They have experience working with us and the projects we have worked together on have been extremely successful. We believe that relationship will assist us in redevelopment of the site.”
Every year West Michigan Works! publishes its Hot Jobs list. We analyze online job posting data and survey employers to create the list of 100 high-growth, in-demand jobs in West Michigan. These jobs pay at least $13 per hour and are estimated to have 50-3000 openings in the next ten years.
If you entered 2017 looking for a career change, use this list to help guide you to new employment. Don’t forget: West Michigan Works! can connect you with resources and help you create a plan that can lead to new opportunities.
The full list will be released later this month. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at a few of the jobs on the list:
Employment Expertise is provided by West Michigan Works! Learn more about how they can help: visit westmiworks.org or your local Service Center.
Here’s what Dr. Jen had to say about Maury Pawvich:
Sometimes you cross paths with a cat so flipping adorable and outgoing that you cannot fathom why on earth he was wandering around town, aimless and abandoned. Seriously, this guy right here? Totally AWESOME! You all know my affinity for the fat-heads, but it just isn’t my penchant for pinchable cheeks that drew me in, but rather magnificent Maury’s alluring aura and his gentlemanly nature. Born in late 2010, the marvelous specimen of all things feline somehow ended up homeless and in search of a place to call his own, when a Wyoming resident took it upon herself to take him in temporarily until we were able to.
Although upsetting, it was really no big surprise when this studmuffin tested a very strong FIV+, considering he was ‘all boy’ and had been roaming the mean streets for who knows how long. I don’t think Maury was the aggressor in any skirmishes he was involved in, but he did suffer a nasty injury to his left rear foot that tore one of his claws completely off, leaving him with a nasty, smelly infection that needed immediate treatment, lest he lose that toe. After antibiotics, neutering, flea treatment, vaccines and deworming, my handsome tuxedo (former) tomcat was ready, willing and able to head on down to our sanctuary and become an official Big Sid’s Kid.
Again, not astonishing that he made fast friends with anyone he came into contact with, charming the other cats and the volunteers alike with his come hither gaze, affability and eagerness to be best buds — forever! Of all of the newbies we had taken in in December of 2014, Maury adapted the easiest, settling in like a champ and quickly learning and engaging in the daily routines and rituals with great enthusiasm.
He is SUCH a gracious, gorgeous guy that you can’t help but fall for him, hook, line and sinker, within mere minutes of making his acquaintance. Maury is absolutely delightful and I speak for all of us when I say how thrilled we are to have him as one of our own, that is until we to find him the kind of purr-fect home he deserves!
Can’t adopt, but still want to help? Find out how you can sponsor a cat!
Crash’s Landing and Big Sid’s Sanctuary have a common mission: To take at-risk stray cats off the streets of the Greater Grand Rapids area, provide them with veterinary care and house them in free-roaming, no-kill facilities until dedicated, loving, permanent homes can be found.
The Kent District Library’s continuing KD aLe program will visit Wyoming’s Kitzingen Brewery on Wednesday, Jan. 11, for a brewery tour — and a little taste of Kitzingen’s speciality: German beers and German food.
The event beings at 7 p.m. The brewery is located at 1760 44th St SW.; Suite 8A; in the Chateau Centre strip mall. Attendees receive a discount on beer when you show your library card.
The beers produced by Kitzingen brewmaster Rommie Bailey include between 9 and 15 brews on tap, including an IPA, a stout and a seasonal authentic Hefeweizen, according to its website: “We’re inspired by the proud German brewing tradition but we will give it a healthy twist of the innovative American craft brewing spirit,” Bailey said.
For more information on Kitzingen Brewery call 616-805-5077 of visit Kitzingen-Brewery.com . For more information on the library’s KD aLe program visit KDL.org
Be a part of the most epic New Year’s Eve experience the area offers at The Ballroom Bashes in Downtown Grand Rapids! Spanning from the Amway Grand Plaza to the JW Marriott Grand Rapids to the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott (all connected via skywalk) you can party in four glamorous hotel ballrooms, each with a distinct theme and energy, along with a dozen restaurants and bars. Find the bash that suits you best and party all night long — or hop from one to the next to keep your night moving.
The purchase of one ticket includes entrance to the following Ballroom Bashes:
Ambassador Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Glow sticks and cups pop in this black-lit environment where a band and DJ take turns playing pop hits
Bourbon and Bubbles
Pantlind Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Bourbon and champagne bars, dueling pianos and a lounge singer for a classic glamour vibe beneath the gold leaf ceiling
Imperial Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Pina Coladas, a steel drum band and décor to transport you to the islands
International Ballroom at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids Music and dancing from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s played by both a band and DJ with sections decorated to celebrate each decade gone by
NYE at The Bistro
The Bistro at the Courtyard by Marriott Sample small plates, crafted cocktails and more in the intimate Bistro setting with a DJ! Complimentary tapas offered with the purchase of a drink.
Sat., Dec. 31, 2016, 8 pm-Sun., Jan 1, 2017, 1:30 am EST
After nearly 10 years of working a small business plan, and recent action by the City of Wyoming, TwoGuys Brewing has taken over an old firehouse and a rundown one-time 7-Eleven convenience store in the Wyoming Park neighborhood and — with any luck to match hard work — should be serving up craft beer for guys and gals who like microbrews in 2017.
“Now its about six months of demolition and renovation, were we turn this ugly old 7-Eleven into a beautiful tap room,” Tom Payne, managing partner and brewmaster of TwoGuys Brewing, said Nov. 10 at a friends-and-neighbors open house at what will be the new brewpub. “We are hopeful for September 1” to open.
“This business came about about 10 years ago,” he said. “I realized I was not just another home brewer, at least I did not think so. I had entered beer in outside competition, outside of just (treating) my normal friends, and it was taken very well. I said ‘You know what? I think we’ve got something here.’ And then my wife and I, after hours and hours of talking, we said ‘This is something we are going to do.’ At that time we put together a 10-year plan, and we are at the end of that 10 years. It is time for TwoGuys Brewing to open.”
Opening the brewery and brewpub involved the leasing of two buildings located across from each other on Porter Street SW, the old 7-Eleven at 2356 Porter Street SW and an unused fire station at 2385.
The leasing of the fire station to Tamaz LLC (an LLC doing business as TwoGuys Brewery) by the city was part of three actions taken by the Wyoming City Council in late November. The actions included granting the business a liquor license, a waiver of city zoning code to allow for the sale of alcohol within a certain distance from a church or residential area, and the lease of the old fire station, which had been used by the city for a meter shop and a temporary laboratory but was currently vacant.
City support of business
“The City of Wyoming has been absolutely instrumental in this,” Payne said. “We approached the city three or four months ago, we completely laid out our business plan and what we wanted to bring to Wyoming Park. They put together a timeline … a ‘we need you to do this and we need you to do this’, and we have done everything the city has asked for. … They have been fantastic.”
Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt made clear the reason for the city’s actions:
“Our region is increasingly embracing craft beer,” Holt said. “You can look around our community and see the many brewpubs that have sprung up over the last five years. We are pleased that TwoGuys Brewing has identified Wyoming as its location and feel that it will be a welcomed by the neighbors — and by Wyoming residents in general.”
Several of those neighbors visited the open house on Dec. 10 as well, and Payne said he expects to be an attribute to the neighborhood.
“The biggest reason (for placing their business in Wyoming) is that this is where we live, my wife and I,” he said. “I grew up in Wyoming Park. I graduated from Wyoming Park. I have lived, aside from my time in the Marine Corps, in this area and it has always been my home. When we decided to open up our brewery, it was going to be where we live and provide our neighbors with something they could certainly be proud of.”
About that name …
And the name of of TwoGuys? Where did it come from?
“10 years ago, there was me and one of my best friends, Charlie, I had gotten him started brewing,” he said. “So, long story (made short), we entered another competition and took best of show on an IPA (India Pale Ale), which at the time had no name. We brewed this beer at Founders. We brewed 10 barrels having won the best of show. … About half an hour before tapping, Founders said ‘You guys need to name this thing something.’ I told them ‘Its just the two of us, we are just two guys, so how about TwoGuys IPA?’”
Now, though, the name takes on another context, Payne said.
“Our TwoGuys, today, is, well … everybody’s two guys. You’re the other guy. My grandson is the other guy. Everybody is the other guy. I am just one guy. It is all about community, which is what brought us to Wyoming Park. … I will consider every guest that comes into these doors, starting next year, as the family, as the other guy.”
Plans at this point the business will focus on an array of craft-brewed beers — maybe wines, meads and sodas — as well as what the business calls a “pub-centric” menu of food. Payne’s brewer pedigree includes his having been involved with Osgood Brewing in Grandville as well as head brewer at 57 Brewpub and Bistro in Greenville.
“We are going to focus on traditional styles, beers that you don’t necessarily find everywhere else,” he said. “A lot of English style ales that no one brews around here … I am not knocking any other brewery in town, there are some fantastic ones, but it is going to be all about the other guy, what they like.”
Tentatively, seating at the brewpub will be for about 80 with a possible outdoor patio planned. The property has about 18 parking spaces in front, with about 50 possible behind the building and another 25 or so across the street at the old firehouse.
Brett Karhoff, of Hungerford Nichols CPAs and Advisors, told Wyoming and Kentwood business leaders Wednesday that changes are likely coming to personal and small business taxes in the wake of the election of President-elect Donald Trump — but, he warns, don’t expect quick action.
“We have a new president, not a new tax law, yet,” Karhoff said, speaking Nov. 30 to the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce’s Business Briefing Luncheon. Despite having Republican control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, “Personally, I don’t think they will get it done in a year … maybe not even in this (2-year Congressional) term.”
In a discussion titled “The President’s Tax Plan: What will it mean to your business and family over the next four years?”, Karhoff detailed the existing Republican “A Better Way” plan — so-called the “Blueprint” — which proposes reducing the number of tax brackets; reducing tax rates on capital gains, dividends and interest income; and eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax.
A key part of the Blueprint for personal taxes, he said, would be to eliminate all itemized deductions except mortgage interest and charitable contributions — pointing out that medical deductions could be on the block, something that could greatly impact seniors.
For business taxes, he said, a key point would include reducing corporate tax rate to 20 percent,
He also detailed some how some of Trump’s election season “contract” with taxpayers are similar or different from the existing Republican plan. (The contract is at donaldjtrump.com/contract)
Trump, according to his contract, would repeal the Net Investment Income Tax and, similar to the Blueprint, the Alternative Minimum Tax. It would also greatly increase the standard deduction for single and married taxpayers, more than doubling it.
For business taxes, Karhoff said, a proposed business tax rate of 15 percent could be good for small business, while a proposed one-time rate of 10 percent for repatriation of corporate profits held offshore could be good for large businesses.
While proposed tax reductions are made clear by both the Blueprint and Trump’s contract, Karhoff said, what is missing is how the revenue side of the federal budget will be balanced — “That may be the surprise in 2017.”
The bottom line for most Wyoming and Kentwood personal and small business taxpayers, Karhoff said, is that people should just watch and wait.
“It is probably worth paying attention to what is going on, what the Trump camp is planning,” he said. “Because I do think it will happen and you need to be prepared. (Changes) will come at some point and you need to be ready. To do that, there are some things you need to think about now, get all your itemized deductions into this year, maybe, into 2016, because in 2017 you may not be able to use them. You need to just watch and plan.”
One of the topics of discussion will be the newOvertime Lawthat goes into effectDec. 1, 2016. If you would like to comment or have figured out how much this will cost your company, please come to the Forum and share with us your input.
This meeting is an opportunity for business owners and the community to face our appointed officials and bring to light any issues or concerns they would like to address. You are welcome to be recognized by the moderator — and present your questions at the allotted time.
Bring your top issues and interact with policymakers from
City of Kentwood
City of Wyoming
County of Kent
Michigan House of Representatives
This monthly meeting will be televised by Cable Channel 25 WKTV.
Being it was Mike’s last week here at WKTV, I let him decide on which restaurant we would visit. So we did not pull Lindo Mexico out of the hat, but let me assure everyone that it was in there.
Actually, I had heard a lot of good things about the restaurant, which along with several Wyoming and Kentwood business is up for the Celebrated Service Award. Having moved earlier this year to its new location at 1742 28th St. SW., Lindo Mexico is a family-owned business known for its familiar Mexican dishes along with beer and margaritas. The new location is beautiful…no gorgeous. It looks and feels like some swanky restaurant you would find in New York or even downtown Grand Rapids, but the best part is you do not have to fight the downtown traffic to get there, just 28th Street, which on a bad day is still better than traveling U.S. 131.
The place is bright, cheerful and features a gallery of artists’ work on the walls that appeared to be available for purchase. (I did not get that up close to check.) My biggest regret is that it was raining the day we went so we could not take advantage of the really cool patio that reminded me of the ones I saw on a recent trip to San Diego. Since the weather will be turning cooler soon, I probably will not be able to take advantage of that patio until the spring. Sigh.
I also completely understand why Lindo Mexico is up for the Celebrated Service Award – our waitress, Lupata, was just a doll. She had a full section but still took the time to explain menu items and checked back on a regular basis to make sure we were doing fine. Due to the fact the restaurant was hopping, I could bet that the service is consistently top-notch.
We stuck to the lunch menu and I settled on #10, the Chimichanga Lunch Special. So I dare admit this while writing about a “Restaurant Mexicano,” but I grew up on Chi Chi’s and one of my favorites was the chimichanga which is a flour tortilla filled with your choice of meat, refried bans, and cheese then deep-fried. I got the chicken and had it topped with mild sauce and melted cheese. I was not enthralled with the chimichanga for a couple of reasons: one, I should have had the sauce on the side, which would have let the chimichanga have more of a crunch. I love crunch and vegetables, which brings me to reason two: I was in love with Mike’s choice, the Alhambra lunch Special, which had green peppers, onions, meat and cheese. It reminded me of a nacho I order from another restaurant and I knew I would have loved it.
So with my next plate decided on and knowing the service is exceptional, I’ll be back with hubby in tow just so he too can dream with me about a lazy summer evening sitting on Lindo Mexico’s patio, sipping a margarita. Who knows, we might even invite Mike to join us.
My time here at WKTV has opened me up to a whole new word here in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood. Growing up north of Grand Rapids, I wasn’t aware that both cities are teeming with a mixture of different cultures. This quickly becomes apparent when looking at the local restaurants and food choices, and Going Local opened my eyes and taste-buds to the diversity both cities have to offer.
For my last week, Joanne allowed me to pick a restaurant. No random drawing from the hat, but an actual choice on where we would Go Local for the week. The choice was easy and came about due to our visit to Maya Mexican Grill two months prior. I loved Maya – the food, the wait staff… the margaritas – and willingly shouted it from the rooftops. It was during that shouting that someone mentioned to me, “Have you tried Lindo Mexico?” I had not, at least, not yet.
Lindo Mexico quickly became a destination spot. “I need to compare and contrast,” I told myself, but in reality I just wanted to stuff my face full of delicious Mexican food.
The restaurant was very clean and inviting upon entering, and the place was packed! Lindo Mexico was busier than any restaurant Joanne and I visited over the last five months. I’ll give you a hint why… it’s because of the food. The lunch menu is quite large, the price is reasonable, and the portions plentiful. After surveying the menu, I zeroed in on number 13. My salivary glands are activating themselves just thinking about it – A mix of marinated pork, marinated chicken and steak strips, cooked with tomato, onion and your choice of jalapeño or bell peppers, then topped with cheese; served with refried beans, mexican rice, guacamole and tortillas.
Talk about a flavorful adventure!
The meat and vegetables came out on a hot skillet with the beans, rice and guacamole on the side. My mouth was throwing a party and only the zestiest of flavors were invited. I savored every bite and even came back to work with a box filled of leftovers. That was quickly devoured two hours later at WKTV. I’m like a Hobbit, second lunch is a real thing.
I’ve also heard their margaritas are amazing… not that I had one or anything. I plead the fifth!
Al-Bos Eurocafe-Bakery was one of the first restaurants I ran across in doing my search of local eateries to put in the Going Local hat.
The Albanian/Bosnian restaurant, located at 2930 Shaffer Ave. SE, is one that I actually have driven past several times, wondering what was inside, and Wednesday was the day I was finally going to find out. The inside was beautiful with dark wood accents and a mix of hi-tops and regular seating along with a bar.
The two-page menu is loaded with items, none of which I had ever tried, making it a little intimating even after our waiter came up and pointed out some of the top suggestions. I struggled in trying to make a decision and looking back, I believe I was afraid of moving out of my comfort zone. The waiter was so gracious in trying to help with a strong push for the stroganoff which had mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes would have to be phenomenal for me to even try them, so that was a no. I finally decided to go with the Mesano Meso or the mixed grill plate. “Good choice! Good choice!” our waiter said. With visions of lots of food, I figured I could take the rest home to the family or have it for leftovers the next day.
When the meal finally came, I was pleasantly surprised to see it was not a heaping plate of meat but a reasonable portion of samples from the various items offered at Al-Bos.
The plate included Chicken Raznjici, a chicken skewer; cevapcici, smaller grilled meat sausages made of lamb and beef; Kranjska Kobasica, a Carniolan sausage similar to kielbasa; pljeskavica, a beef patty, and a breaded chicken that I did not get the name of. Topping it off was Djuvec rice and french fries.
There is a person who wrote on Al-Bos’s Facebook page that they could eat the food “until they were put on a stretcher.” After tasting everything on my plate, I could totally relate. The food was amazing. It was properly seasoned without being overpowering bringing out the full flavor of the individual dishes. Basically a “wow” factor times ten and I loved every bite.
I did manage to save some for the family and watched sadly as my daughter saddled up next to my husband and began to steal everything off his plate. As my husband looked at the empty plate of which he got only a few small bites, I said, “We’ll go there. I promise.” After all, I believe there is a stroganoff with mashed potatoes calling my name.
With the camera on and the Going Local hat nestled in my left palm, I dove my right hand deep into the paper abyss to choose our next location. As my hand finagled through the options, it finally settled on one destination, Al-Bos Eurocafe-Bakery
Another week, and another brand new location I had never heard of. I’ll take ‘A New Experience’ for $200, Alex.
The authentic Albanian-Bosnian restaurant – located at 2930 Shaffer Ave. in Kentwood – has a menu loaded with my favorite thing in the whole wide world… Meat! A power-packed protein binge in always in my wheelhouse and Al-Bos had a selection that was sure to satisfy.
The menu was overpowering, not going to lie, and I don’t mean that as a negative. A whole host of meats and preparations filled the menu and left me slightly dumbfounded. Not only was I struggling to make a decision, I had difficulty pronouncing what I was even ordering. Thankfully our waiter was extremely helpful. He immediately sensed my indecisiveness and pointed me towards a few menu items I would enjoy.
It felt like a blind date and my waiter was the matchmaker. I couldn’t pronounce my meal’s name, and I wasn’t quite sure what she was going to look like, but I had to trust that there would be chemistry between us. My lunch date ended up being Stufed Pljeskavica-Punjena Pljeskavica. It consisted of stufed pljeskavica (beef), with feta cheese, onion, ajvar, djuvec rice, and french fries.
When the meal was set down in front of me, I was quickly reminded that true love was universal. We may not have spoken the same language, but body language needs no interpretation and my meal and I were on the same page.
The beef was tender and juicy and stuffed with feta cheese. It went down quickly as each bite was followed by an immediate need for another. The rice was delicious and had a more tempered flavor. It complimented the meat quite nicely. The french fries were an add-on seemingly from left field, but I’ll never complain about a batch of french fries and they went down seamlessly.
Fortunately for me, Joanne ordered what was essentially a buffet of meats and allowed me to try some. I was thankful to have two different sausages and devoured them like a ravenous lion.
In all, Al-Bos left a very fine first impression. With all of their menu options, I’d be a fool not to head back for another round.
Three months ago we drew Daniele’s Pizzeria out of the Going Local hat and gave it the full treatment. There was a Facebook Live video of the drawing, an order of scrumptious pizza and cheesy bread, and a Friday write-up for the masses to consume.
However, something caught my eye three months ago while diving into the Daniele’s menu that caused me to pause and think “Is this love?” It was a masterful creation of carbs and grease called the ‘D-Burger’. A half pound slab of sausage topped with jalapeno and onions and sandwiched between two 7-inch pepperoni pizzas. A taste bud’s dream and an artery’s worst nightmare.
An executive decision was quickly made to add the D-Burger from Daniele’s into the hat. Fate would decide when the delicious monstrosity would make its humble abode in my belly, all I had to do was wait. So, you could imagine my excitement when the D-Burger was drawn out of the hat this week. While I tried to contain it, it was to no avail, Joanne and Victoria could see that I was smitten. My only question was, “do I call now or wait three days? I don’t want to seem needy or too available.”
Joanne made me wait until Wednesday per our ‘rules’ for Going Local. Rules don’t matter when love is in the air. Time is a physical construct that can’t measure longing. Does it really matter if it’s one minute or 48 hours? When one second feels infinite, it’s truly unbearable.
Somehow, through sheer will and grit, I made it to Wednesday.
After driving to Daniele’s Pizzeria – now at a new location located at 1429 60th Street, Grand Rapids – and picking up the goods, the sheer girth of the box caught me slightly off guard. A quick peek inside showed a greasy pepperoni pizza, what was underneath would stay a mystery until I returned back to WKTV to share with the staff.
As my teeth sunk into the burger, fireworks went off in my head. The pizza, sausage, pizza trifecta was a sensation with every bite. Juicy, salty, and carbo-loaded for the ultimate eating experience. The jalapeno added a slight kick of heat that triggered the taste buds and took them on an unexpected roller coaster ride of flavor.
The D-Burger was shared between five of us at the station as none of us wanted to keel over of a heart attack after eating too much. However, death by eating a D-Burger might not be the worst way to go…
In full disclosure, I have to state this upfront: I am not a fan of sausage on a pizza. I prefer my pizzas to be simple, usually with just pepperoni or, if making them at home, with green pepper, onion, ham, and pepperoni. Sausage just does not make the list.
With that said, when Mike talked about the D-Burger at Danielle’s, I assumed it was a burger — as in hamburger — between two 7-inch pizzas. Once I took a bite, I quickly realized it was sausage, which only made sense for a pizza-style burger. And the sausage was very good, very favorable, and even though sausage is not my thing, I have to give kudos to Danielle’s for thinking outside of the box in creating the D-Burger. I did try the pizza separate and it was amazing. The bread was fresh, the sauce was perfect and it was just the type of pizza I would enjoy.
So while the D-Burger won’t make it on my repeat list (I do encourage everyone to at least try it and make their own decision) I will be heading over to Danielle’s Pizza’s new location at 1429 60th St. SE for a pizza…or two, as I do need to share with the family.
With the news of that food trucks were descending on Kentwood for its Bags & Bites event this Saturday, Mike and I made the decision to taste test some of the items before the trucks arrived.
Unfortunately, finding a food truck after owners have spent two and half weeks at ArtPrize proved to be a little difficult. We also were too lazy to get up at 6 a.m. to go visit River City Cup & Cake which usually can be found at the Amtrak station. However the owner of River City Cup & Cake, Lorin Tate, who is a Kentwood resident and Kelloggsville graduate, was gracious enough to stop by the studio.
He makes a mean hot chocolate (sorry folks, I do not drink coffee or tea). Unfortunately, Lorin had sold out of all his pastries, so I would wait until Saturday.
Still I wanted to try one more food truck and our choices narrowed down to driving to Allendale for Patty Matters or heading to Two Scotts Barbecue’s brick and mortar home at 536 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids. The minute I said “Two Scotts,” Mike was quick to make the “executive” decision.
Two Scotts is only open from 11 a.m. — 3p.m. We were planning to get there around 11:30 a.m., but a friend said to be there before it opens as the place is known to run out. We managed to walk through the doors at 11:07 a.m. and the place was starting to jump. When we left about an hour later, the outside patio was filling up and the parking lot was packed with cars circling in hopes someone would leave.
I wanted a menu item that would be on the food truck. The order taker was quick to tell me the menu is usually the same with offerings varying depending on location.
With Two Scotts you can either get your pulled pork, pulled chicken, sliced brisket, burnt ends or sausage as a sandwich or just the meat with homemade pickles and bread. I opted for the burnt ends sandwich ($10) making it a combo (add $3) that included a drink and side because I wanted the homemade tater tots.
We grabbed some sauce, I tried the house, verde, and an orange sauce that tasted like it had mayo. After I sat down, I noticed the tips already had sauce on them so I really did not need any of the sauces I picked but I tried them anyway — they were all yummy and I really could not pick a favorite. As for the sandwich, well burnt ends do not make for a great sandwich. (Something Mike, with a laugh, pointed out.) So after a couple of bits, I discarded the bread, speared the pieces with a folk and dipped them in the sauces. The meat melted in my mouth, and to be honest, I have not had meat taste that good since my husband took me to a really nice steak place.
I was so happy about the burnt ends, I almost forgot about the tater tots, which were a crunchy delight. I popped them like candy as we sat and chatted about the week. And since I essentially had meat and potatoes, I was full for the entire day.
So if you are headed to the Kentwood Bags & Bites at the Kentwood City Hall (5900 Breton Rd. SE), Two Scotts is definitely one to try. I’m thinking of snagging some for my husband’s dinner since he’ll since be at work when my daughters and I head over. As for me, well I am planning to hit either Patty Matters, offering up an array of burgers, or Gettin’ Fresh, for its burger with bacon grounded in. And of course, hopefully get my hands on one of those River City Cup & Cake pastries.
On Tuesday afternoon, Lorin Tate stopped by the station after making his morning runs with his traveling business River City Cup & Cake. Unfortunately for Joanne and I, but a measure of the truck’s success on the road, Lorin was clean out of pastries. However, he did make a mean mocha and filled my mental appetite with insight into the food truck business.
For starters, food trucks have a lot of room to move around inside! And it makes sense, it’s a one-man restaurant that needs all of the amenities of a kitchen. Space might be limited but it’s packed together like a well-played game of Tetris, everything in the right place. They also aren’t cheap – Lorin’s espresso machine by itself cost $15,000 – and they can struggle to run in the winter due to the water pipes freezing. If you can’t store your food truck in a warm garage during the cold months, better shut it down all season.
Once the mocha was finished, I topped off the rest of Joanne’s hot chocolate as it was just a little too rich for her. I didn’t know there was such a thing as ‘too rich’ when it came to hot cocoa. I guzzled it down. With how delicious the fresh brewed coffee and hot chocolate was, I’m bummed the pastries weren’t available. Guess I’ll just have to stop by the Amtrak early in the morning!
The next day Joanne and I scooted out to Two Scotts Barbeque. Yes, I know, their restaurant on Leonard isn’t a food truck, but their food truck will be at Kentwood on Saturday and we made sure to order what would be on that food truck. We’re always thinking.
Two Scotts has a slight history with me, a year and a half ago I moved into a house about a stone throw away from the barbecue joint. Whenever I wanted barbecue, which is pretty much all the time, I would stop by to see if they were open. With hours slated from 11am-3pm, I struck out every single time. This was my chance to finally the famed joint.
It did not disappoint.
The brisket sandwich called to me and I threw in an order of homemade tots as well. The brisket was flavorful and went down quick – I think I ate it in 30 seconds or so – and the tots were INCREDIBLE. Even if you aren’t a fan of smoked meats, you absolutely need to stop in for their homemade tots. The outside crunched and the inside melted in your mouth. Simply delectable.
Two Scotts, I think we need to make this a weekly thing.
Citizen Journalist Rob’s Potion
Waiting can be one of the most difficult things, especially for more hyperactive people like me, and when you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be a time of dread. Most of the time, in these waiting situations, I often look for something to do like drink or eat to pass the time. So, you could imagine my excitement and curiosity when I spotted a food truck while waiting for the Megabus to take me back to my hometown Chicago.
If you are not familiar with the Megabus pick up location, it’s a parking lot diagonal from the old Amtrak station with very little around that could occupy a wondering mind. River City Cup & Cake sat in the parking lot as a beacon of adventure during my time of waiting. The food truck combined two of my all-time favorite things in the world all wrapped into one catchy name on the side of a truck. Who could possibly deny the insatiable combination of a cup of coffee and a piece of cake? Besides my friend John, of course, who somehow detests both. Truly one of a kind.
As a latte and cupcake/pastry lover, I found the River City Cup and Cake to be inviting with its bright color and simple, but very cool, logo . The espresso sign was magnetic to my soul.
A line had already begun to form as many of us waiters found this to be the best location to wait for our bus. While I can’t remember exactly which cupcake I had, I do remember it was good, baked with the fluffy and buttery flavor that one would expect from a really good cupcake and the latte was also very good. I also remember the customer service being outstanding with an owner who was engaging with his clientele and seemed to be an owner/operator who really enjoyed what he was doing.
I would highly recommend that when you see this vehicle, RUN TO IT!! Get yourself a cup & cake and enjoy. I know I did when I saw it parked in the parking lot while volunteering at WKTV on Tuesday.
Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan (DRCWM) is commemorating its 30th year with a soirée called Thirty & Thriving — Celebrating the Vision, and the community is invited to attend October 20 at 6:30 pm at The B.O.B.-Eve, 20 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
DRCWM’s celebration will be hosted by local luminary, the Honorable Sara Smolenski, whose brother Hon. Michael Smolenski served as the first board president of DRCWM. Three individuals, responsible for transforming the idea of a center for conflict resolution into reality, will be honored with Local Peacemaker Awards: Rev. Vernon Hoffman, Calvin College Professor Emeritus, Dr. Henry J. Holstege, Jr. and Dr. Robert Riekse.
The DRCWM is a non-profit community dispute resolution center serving seven counties in West Michigan. The organization provides mediation services on a sliding scale, mediation training, restorative practitioners, and restorative practices training.
Last year, the DRCWM served 1,302 individuals and mediated 429 cases in a wide variety of areas, 74% of which mediated to full or partial agreement. Mediation helps participants to resolve conflicts on their own timeline, in a private setting, on their own terms. The mediators are volunteers trained pursuant to the Michigan State Court Administrator’s guidelines.
Spearheaded by its executive director, Christine Gilman, DRCWM began its restorative justice program at Lee Middle School in the fall of 2013. The services target students, staff and the community. A recent $50,000 from the Steelcase Foundation enabled the organization to expand its restorative justice program to Lee Middle School in Wyoming, Kelloggsville Middle School and Wyoming High School over the next two years.
Some of the students that have participated in the restorative circles process at Wyoming Public Schools will share their experiences at the celebration, and guests will hear firsthand how effective the program really is.
Noel Webley and his Jazz Friends will keep toes tapping as guests enjoy a scrumptious dinner catered by the B.O.B., a cash bar, an opportunity to mingle and network, and have an opportunity to win exciting prizes in a raffle.
Tickets are available for $45 at drcwm.org. Proceeds will support the organization’s restorative justice school programs which have helped students to avoid hundreds of suspension days through restorative circles.
For more information contact: Christine Gilman, Executive Director DRCWM at 616.774.0121x 101 or 616.581.3582. Or email her at email@example.com.
When I first pulled Taco Bob’s out of the Going Local hat on Monday, I didn’t think much of it. I envisioned a small restaurant that specializes in tacos and deduced that it would be a tasty way to spend the Wednesday lunch hour. Nothing more, nothing less.
My expectations were raised later that night when talking to my girlfriend, Mary, about where Joanne and I would be Going Local this week.
“Taco Bob’s? The one down in Kalamazoo is very good! You’re going to like it,” Mary quipped. She grew up in Kalamazoo and is a bit of a food aficionado herself. If Taco Bob’s brought back immediate positive memories for her, I was now expecting the same for myself. The bar had been raised.
From the street, Taco Bob’s doesn’t look like much. You’d be forgiven if you missed the taco shop at 900 52nd St. entirely because of the car wash in close proximity. I should mention, you will only be forgiven if you apologize, admit you were wrong to glance over Taco Bob’s, and stop by sometime in the near future to try the delicious offerings presented on the menu. I’ll be the first to admit it, I glanced over Taco Bob’s many-a-times and only saw the car wash. I have seen the light and it is marvelous!
At Taco Bob’s you can order at a drive-thru or at the pick up window and sit outside. Wednesday may have been windy, but it was sunny enough to enjoy a bite outside, so Joanne and I chose the pick up window. The whole menu looked enticing and I felt each item whispering sweet nothings into my ear. However, I can only date one item at a time as I believe in a monogamous relationship between a man and food. In order to help me make a decision, I called upon the owner himself, Kyle Hemmes.
“The funny tacos are really popular. They’re a hard shell taco wrapped in a warm soft shell taco and sandwiched with nacho cheese in between,” My heart skipped a beat as butterflies began swarming in my stomach. I was getting nervous and excited all at the same time. Some call it love at first sight, I call it a typical Going Local afternoon.
My heart made its decision with the #4 meal that consisted of two funny tacos, a side of rice and beans, chips and a drink all for $6.69.
The tacos were warm, zestful, and crunchy in all the right places. I consumed both tacos in an instant and immediately pondered if I wanted more. My taste buds wanted more, and they wanted it NOW, but my stomach, eyes and mind were telling me no as there were still rice and beans in front of me. I finished the rest of my lunch and went back to work with nothing but Taco Bob’s on my mind.
At work the next day, my heart couldn’t shake the impression Taco Bob’s made on me. Joanne sat and listened as I poured my heart out about a love that ended too soon. Did that meal mean more to me than it did to those tacos? I couldn’t help but think maybe I fell too fast, too soon. I was craving Taco Bob’s but I didn’t want to come across as desperate. Thankfully, Joanne was there for me. She swung by Taco Bob’s for lunch and picked up two tacos to bring back to the station. I ate in peace and my heart was full once more.
With the announcement that the downtown Fifth/Third building is being turned into a hotel, Kyle Hemmes was forced to move his restaurant Taco Bob’s from Grand Rapids to Kentwood. All I can say is Grand Rapids’s loss is a heck of a gain for Kentwood and all of us who love to eat local.
I became familiar with Taco Bob’s when in my previous life I was working in Kalamazoo and a co-worker took me to the original. The owner, Bob, told me of the location in Grand Rapids, but I was never able to eat there as the lines were too long and the hours were limited to lunch only.
Fast forward and I have been driving past the Taco Bob’s location at 900 52nd St. SE for several weeks, not realizing its famous connection, until we were on our way for lunch. When Hemmes confirmed it, I was so excited I could barely focus on the menu board.
“Most people get our Funny Tacos. That’s what we are known for.” Hermes said. Nah, not what I wanted. “Or the Nachos Supreme. A lot people like our nachos.” Bingo! The item I always got in Kalamazoo was just singing to me.
At the Kentwood Taco Bob’s, you have the choice of take it and go or sitting outside. The location is actually the former Java Cone ice cream stand. The day we were there, it was a beautiful fall day and if you sat in the sun, it was warm enough to sit outside. We gathered our food, took a table and dug in.
The nachos were a nest of tomato, lettuce, cheese, meat, and chips all nicely layered with sour cream zigzagged on the top. It was happiness in a square styrofoam container. I munched away contently.
Taco Bob’s is open year around and offers an array of Mexican fare: tacos, burritos, tostadas, taco salad, quesadillas, and a “Quick Fix” selection that includes tortilla chips, nacho cheese, and small drink.
I ended up visiting Taco Bob’s the next day as someone, whose name starts with an “M,” had to mention tacos. Actually, he started his taco talk soon after returning from our first Taco Bob’s adventure. It brought a chuckle to Hemmes when I drove up and said “I’m back.”
“That’s a good thing,” he said. In fact, during our first foray, I mentioned how I was definitely bringing my family to Taco Bob’s. It became a definite when I read the description of the Cheezy Taco: soft shell with ground beef melted shredded cheese and sour cream, which is my daughter’s definition of the perfect taco.
I’m the person on the sidelines, the one who has to hold down the fort while these two do their foodie happy dance each week. But I don’t mind, because every so often, you gotta take one for the team, right? Besides, I get so much more work done than they do. And as a bonus, when they come back from their Going Local thing, they’re always happy, and I love working with happy people.
But this week was different. When Joanne and Mike came back from Taco Bob’s, I could tell they were inordinately happy, much happier than usual — almost frighteningly so, eyes bright and shiny, a peppy step to their gait, smiles a mile wide. Luckily, I had an editing project to do upstairs, so their squeals of laughter didn’t get on my nerves.
On Thursday, I was still editing upstairs when Joanne popped her head in and asked if I wanted some takeout from Taco Bob’s. Well, heck, yes! I wanted to feel what they were feeling.
I tried a crunchy meat taco. OMG. I cannot stress enough how awesome it tasted, even without taco sauce. The meat is seasoned to perfection, the cheese cheesy as cheese is wont to be, and the lettuce fresh and crispy.
Well, that does it. I’m going to head over to Taco Bob’s. Mike and Joanne have hit on a winner.
Finding work can be hard enough, but just imagine how difficult it would be if you had an addiction. This is a fact of life for many folks.
Guiding Light’s Back to Work program provides a short-term stay for men who are employed or seeking full-time employment, allowing them to save money while they look for permanent housing. Other programs assist in addiction recovery, finding full-time employment and affordable housing.
Men in the program sleep in a men’s dorm and eat meals at Guiding Light. They receive job coaching, training in techniques for searches, and daily encouragement and advice. They have use of a computer lab for online job searching, email and résumé preparation. Phones are also available for local calls. As needed, they are provided with transportation and prerequisite necessities to accept a job offer.
The Back to Work program is a smart and strong solution for promoting financial independence through work. Each year, millions of dollars are funneled back into the local economy because of the emphasis Guiding Light has on helping men find and hold steady employment.
Guiding Light receives no government funding or insurance. All programs are funded by individual donors.
Each donationprovides a man with the tools and resources to rebuild his life and re-engage with community.
Guiding Light is located at 255 Division Ave. S in Grand Rapids. For more information, call 616.451.0236 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I did not know Spectrum Lanes had a restaurant until one day, while bowling with some students, a waitress came by with a menu. We ordered and the food was good, like tasty good.
But I have not eaten at Woody’s Press Box, located at 5656 Clyde Park SW, in some time, so when we pulled it out of the hat, I was somewhat excited about visiting.
The restaurant was not full — it’s a big space — but it was busy. The day’s specials featured a lunch buffet and an all-you-can-eat spaghetti meal.
There was a special lunch menu that included an array of fare from pizzas to sandwiches to burgers, but what got me were the prices. Lunch meals were arranged in three categories, $4.53, $5.52 and $6.46, any of which comes with homemade potato chips or onion straws. You could upgrade to fries, loaded potato, coleslaw, macaroni salad, potato salad or baked beans for $1.75 more.
Let me repeat: You could have lunch for $4.53. With tax, it is still under $5 which is way cheaper than many of the large chain restaurants. The bargain hunter in me was doing back flips.
“Who would order only a half order of chips & cheese,” Mike asked as he looked over the menu. “That’s like a snack.”
“Me,” I thought in my head as it would make me feel less guilty with a half order. Then again, I don’t run a lacrosse team four days a week, burning off a gazillion calories.
When I came in, I was thinking burger but the personal, one-item 10-inch pizza at $4.53 stole my attention. Was it the price? Hmm, maybe, but I went with it. You could add extra toppings for $1.05 but I stayed to just pepperoni. It also came thin crust or hand tossed and at our server’s suggestion, I went with thin crust.
It didn’t disappoint. It was end-to-end cheese coverage with a nice sprinkling of pepperoni. Afterwards, I discovered I could have added a small side salad for $1.75, which I might have done and brought half the pizza home. Heck, I could see myself bringing a salad to work and snagging one of those pizzas and being very happy for a couple of lunches.
The price point alone is reason enough to pass all those other chain places by and head to Woody’s, the quality is the bonus for doing so.
“Would you like the lunch menu or were you planning on having the buffet?”
More attractive words have never been spoken into my ears. A lunch menu and a buffet? There had to be a catch. Fortunately for me, my stomach and taste buds, there wasn’t a catch as Joanne and I sat down for lunch at Woody’s Press Box.
When we first pulled in to the parking lot at Woody’s, I immediately noticed how big the building was. I was expecting a small, local sports bar but instead was presented with a behemoth of a building. However, once inside, the seating area wasn’t nearly as large as the outside portrayed. Joanne noticed my inquisitive focus on what we just walked into, how the size didn’t match up with what I saw from the outside, and mentioned that a bowling alley — Spectrum Lanes — is attached to Woody’s. The great mystery was solved and my focus could now shift back to what truly mattered, the food!
My eyes filtered through the lunch menu while occasionally peeking up at the TVs lining the walls. My eyes also caught a glimpse of the bartenders pouring generous amounts of beer into massive cups. Calling it a cup might be the understatement of the century, like saying the Titanic hit an ice cube. The portion sizes were truly a sight to behold, but Joanne and I were on the clock and we would like to stay gainfully employed. We opted for a water, with lemon of course, and vowed to come back another time.
So, about that food — as Joanne mentioned, the lunch menu had meal options that ran $4.53, $5.52, and $6.46. The lunch buffet cost $7.74 and could also be added to anyone of the meal options at a slight up-charge. Woody’s is essentially giving food away. Eventually I settled on the spicy chicken sandwich for $6.46 that came with homemade kettle chips and a pickle.
When I ordered my sandwich I was expecting something small but what was put on my plate may as well have been the full chicken. The meat protruded off of both ends of the bun and was stacked high with Swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes. The chips were bountiful.
The first bite into the chicken sandwich was juicy with a kick of heat. I’ll be honest with you, the sandwich was significantly better than I was anticipating. After every bite I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the next one. The chips were crisp and added a hint of salt to fully complement my taste buds. To get a better idea of how much food there was, I wasn’t able to completely clean off my plate.
Eventually the bill arrived and I was pleased to see the price stay under $7 with tax included. After including the tip, the bill was still less than what I would’ve expected to pay for the size of sandwich I received.
Woody’s Press Box, I will be making my way back for lunch. This time I might even try the buffet!
I would have loved to have seen a picture of our faces when the server at Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant presented our food. He brought it out in two bowls, poured it onto a large pizza-size dish with bread on it and walked away.
“Now what do we do?” Mike said.
We do what the Ethiopian do, grab some injera – an Ethiopian sourdough flatbread – and dig in…with our hands. Yep, that’s right, with Ethiopian cuisine, utensils are optional with most such restaurants not offering any unless asked.
Located in the area that seems like it should be Kentwood but is really Grand Rapids – in other words the Town and Country Shopping Center, 4301 Kalamazoo Ave. SE – Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant brings a unique dining experience and is housed in a mall that is full of interesting finds such as the Mediterranean Island, one of the best international grocery stores in the area.
We drove up, parked in front of the restaurant, which had a large blue-and-white sign, and walked in. While small, the entire place had a really cool feel reflecting the heritage and culture of Ethiopia. Our server quickly seated us and brought out two glasses and a pitcher of water on a silver serving trade.
After some explanation and a review of the menu, I selected a “tib” dish that featured beef chunks with sautéed onions and spices. The description reminded me of Mongolian Beef, which I like so I felt pretty confident this would be a winner. I was right, the dish was very favorable without being heavy on spice. I loved it and couldn’t get enough. The meal came with some side dishes which were not explained. One was a corn dish and the other was spinach, both being pretty good.
What surprised us both was how quickly we got filled up on our meal. I figured it was because using the bread as the utensil, it forced us to eat slow. Mike also felt it was because we had bread with each bite.
Prices were a little higher, it was $12.99 for my dish, but the chance to experience an entirely different way to enjoy food made it worth it.
As I stared at the plate of food prepared community style on a plate in front of Joanne and me. Utensils were nowhere to be found, but there was a basket of spongy bread on my left. I was perplexed and yet awfully intrigued.
When we pulled into Gursha Ethiopian Restaurant out of the Going Local hat, I had no idea what to expect. When it comes to food, I usually have a good idea of what will be placed in front of me. There’s usually a slight pocket of memory dug back in my brain that at least gives a slight hint of what I might be eating. Whether I saw it online, on TV or in person, an idea of food isn’t too far removed from my frontal lobe. However, Ethiopian stumped me. I’ve never eaten it nor have I seen it.
Going Local was about to be a true blind date, maybe I should’ve paid more attention to Joanne’s foretelling throwaway comment, “hope you enjoy eating with you hands!”
Gursha, located on Kalamazoo just north of 44th Street, is authentic Ethiopian. The Ethiopian colors of red, yellow and green invite you in and cover the chairs. There is seating available at a mesob – a hand-woven Ethiopian dining table – for those interested in a more authentic experience.
The menu is full with vegetarian, fish, lamb, chicken, and beef options. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what any of it truly meant. I ended up choosing a beef option called Sega Wat that was a beef stew in a spicy, dark berbere sauce. The owner said it had some kick. A beef stew with a little spice seemed like a relatively safe choice, so I went with it.
Our sides were brought out to us on a communal plate and my meal, along with Joanne’s, was poured out on plate. A basket of injera, a spongy sourdough-risen flatbread, turned out to be our utensils for the meal. After staring at each other for a good ten seconds, we both ripped off a piece of injera and dove on in to the plate in front of us.
The sega wat was juicy and tender with a powerful kick. That dark berbere sauce doesn’t play around! I made sure to dive into Joanne’s entree which was a more mild beef sautéed with onions. It was splendid but didn’t pack the punch I was craving, so I went back to my entree.
After some time had passed, I realized how full I was and took a gander down at my plate to notice it still half full! How on earth could my stomach be so stuffed already? A mixture of the injera and eating slowly instead of shoveling my face full with a fork must’ve been why.
If I ever need to worry about my portion control, an Ethiopian themed menu will do the trick.
Brentwood Mall, on the corner of 44th Street and Breton Avenue, has been the home of many things, a fitness center, retail shops, and restaurants.
And as of May, it is also the home of the 616 Sports Bar & Grill, a place I joked with Mike that we should come back to when we visited Tokyo Grill and Sushi at the beginning of August.
Walking in, I felt like I was entering a “Cheers” episode with the only thing missing was the bar and someone shouting “Hey Joanne.” After a couple of minutes of waiting, our host/server came from the back and encouraged us to sit in that area which is where the bar is located. Actually it appears that the 616 Sports Bar is broken into two distinct spaces, a restaurant in the front and a bar area in the back which I thought was a nice concept. The dark tones gave the place that almost “where everybody knows your name” feel. I say “almost” because it could have had a little more Sparty green to offset that glaring gold (Editor’s Note – It’s MAIZE!!! Joanne: It’s corn to me) and blue, but I digress.
Ever the bargain hunter, I spotted the sign for the $4.99 lunch special which had several options: cheeseburger, turkey panini, gyros, fish sandwich, three chicken strips and two coney dogs all served with homemade chips and a pickle. Our server quickly told us that it was $5.99 the day we were there as the restaurant was substituting fries. The extra dollar was worth it as the handmade fries had the perfect crispness with me savoring every single one.
After a short debate — Me: Turkey panini or coney dogs? Waiter: Well that depends, do you want to go healthy or do want something really good to eat? —I went with the Coney dogs because there was two and I could save one for my lunch tomorrow. Our waiter heard that and brought one out with the fries and had the other one in a takeout container — bonus points!
The Coney dog had all the ingredients of a Coney dog: chili, relish, mustard, onion, cheese on top of a beef hot dog wrapped up in a steam fresh bun. It was messy, which made it all that much better and the second was just as good the next day.
In the end, 616 Sports Bar reminded me of those old neighborhood bars where people hung out over a beer, burger and fries celebrating team victories or just together. Since the bar has only been open for a few months, I did ask our server why the Brentwood location. “Why not?” he said, pointing out that 616’s current location had been a Chinese restaurant for 25 years until the owners decided to retire. So cheers to 616 Sports Bar & Grill and here’s hoping it’s around at least as long as the former tenant.
Unfortunately for my heart and arteries, 616 Sports Bar & Grill was drawn out of the hat.
My arteries and my taste buds have been frenemies since as early as I can remember. It’s a true love-hate relationship. If the food tastes great and is also healthy, they’re best buds. If the food tastes great while also clogging the major highways for red blood cells throughout my body, it creates some understandable tension between the two. I’m happiest when the taste buds win.
On the walk in to 616 Sports Bar, their $4.99 lunch specials posted on the door immediately jumped out. Let me say that again – $4.99 FOR A MEAL! And we’re not talking about a salad or soup here. No, the lunch specials are actually legit items like a cheeseburger, 2 Coney dogs, beef burrito, turkey panini, BLT, 3 chicken tenders and a gyro. Oh, and they come with chips.
Sign me up everyday of the week and twice on Sunday please! (Note from Michael’s arteries – He didn’t actually mean that, right? RIGHT!?)
As we were seated at our high top next to the bar, my eyes couldn’t help but drift to the arcade games lining the walls. They looked awfully enticing, but I was a man on a mission. That lunch special was begging to be signed, sealed, delivered and devoured.
There was no debate once I was seated, it was the cheeseburger and nothing else. The bar was out of chips and offered fries for a dollar up charge. I’m going to get this out-of-the-way right now, order the fries. Oh my gosh you need to order the fries. They are absolutely incredible. I don’t care if the up charge is $20, you need to order the fries.
The burger came out stacked high with lettuce, onion, and tomato. This was not a skimpy burger either. It had quality size and girth to properly fill the stomach. Along with the incredible fries, it made for a lunch well worth the trip. The other positive? The higher concentration of Maize and Blue than Green and White.
To many people, ‘homelessness’ is just a word. Maybe we understand this state of being intellectually and academically, but it’s next to impossible to empathize — unless we’ve experienced similar circumstances or have a friend or family member who has lived on the streets. Putting a real face on this dilemma helps humanize the condition, and that’s what Tom Gunnels’s project, ‘Waiting On Division‘ is all about.
You may recognize the name — Gunnels played banjo with local folk band, The Crane Wives for five years (2010-2015) before moving on to work on the Great Lakes Natives music project. Currently, he’s a free-lance photographer and videographer.
Interested in humanitarian efforts since he was a kid, Gunnels originally considered joining the Peace Corps to help disadvantaged people in other countries. Then one day, he realized that there were people in dire straits right in our own backyard.
It doesn’t take much
Earlier this year, he began documenting his encounters with homeless folks by writing a nearly daily diary on Facebook, taking still photos and videotaping people’s stories. Some days he doesn’t unpack his equipment. It all depends on whether or not people feel like being filmed or photographed. Some days are better than others.
“Several of [the street people] are now my friends,” said Gunnels. “They’re people with feelings, just like you and me, it’s just that their circumstances have one way or another led them down this path.”
I shadowed Gunnels one day as he made his “rounds” visiting the street people of downtown Grand Rapids. Soft-spoken and unassuming, he walks with a heavy backpack containing camera and video equipment on his back, trudging through downtown everyday on a personal mission to help folks less fortunate than him by listening, offering a hug when needed and making sure his friends are OK.
“Sometimes, all someone needs is a listening ear or a hug or just a kind word,” he said. “Such simple things make a huge difference in someone’s life. It really doesn’t take much.”
He carried a book with him, Ending Homelessness: Why We Haven’t, How We Can, edited by Donald W. Burnes and David L. DiLeo, as well as a blank journal and a scan disk. He planned to give the journal to a friend who loves to write. The scan disk was for another friend whose camera needed more memory. He’s been in touch with Burnes, who wants Gunnels to be involved with a major project.
The day was hot and muggy and it was only 9 am. Less than an hour in, I was already dripping and wilting. How do people tolerate this day after day after day? I just can’t fathom it.
What is going on in our world? To say this is not okay would be a major understatement. ~Tom Gunnels
“This project is so much more about process than it is anything else,” Gunnels wrote in a Facebook post. “The process of walking downtown with all of the gear, being recognizable on the street as ‘that guy who is filming.’ I try to make a morning walk downtown every day that I can, just to say hi and maybe catch someone who has been wanting to film, but maybe just waiting for the right day.”
Puritan values still rule
Homelessness in Grand Rapids is a microcosm of what is happening across America, where the impact of 1600s Puritan values still thrives. Many people hold on to the notion that one only needs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and into the pursuit of the American dream. Those who can’t “deserve” to be destitute, as they are thought to bring no added value to society.
Many homeless folks are disabled or suffer from addiction, some are war veterans, all face social disadvantages that go far beyond the lack of a safe and suitable home. They have reduced access to private and public services, as well as limited access to vital necessities such as healthcare and dental services. They are often seen as unsuitable for employment and their travel options are few.
Getting proper help when one is homeless can seem insurmountable. First, you have to know what services are available. That may take some time to figure out if you’re new in town or mentally ill, as many homeless folks are. Or perhaps you’ve been homeless for a few years and have given up on “the system,” but for whatever reason, today you’re going to give it another shot. Either way, you’ll need to fill out the correct forms. If you don’t have the proper I.D. — like a Social Security card or birth certificate — you can’t apply for basic social services.
If you don’t get it right that day, you’ll have to start all over again. The process is demeaning, time-consuming and frustrating.
On a more basic, day-to-day level, homeless folks are discriminated against at every turn. People cross the street to avoid them. Access to drinking water is limited, even on the hottest days, and some people suffer from dehydration as a result. Access to restrooms is another huge problem.
Then there is the matter of trespassing and loitering. Gunnels showed me a small patch of grass between a building and a fence. It was maybe eight square feet.
“See how small this space is,” he said. “A couple of my friends were just standing here the other day, not bothering anybody, when the owner of the property came out and threatened to call the cops.”
Moving onto the sidewalk was not an option.
“They tell them that it’s still trespassing,” said Gunnels. “Now, if I were to stand here for a while, that’s OK, because I don’t look homeless.”
Everybody is waiting
‘Waiting On Division’ is not simply about a street in downtown Grand Rapids.
“It’s about division in every sense of the word,” said Gunnels. “What divides us as people, as humans.”
One observation became apparent to Gunnels early on: Everybody was waiting for something, whether waiting in line for food, to get in a shelter or waiting for a social services facility to open.
“There’s just a lot of waiting,” said Gunnels. He was convinced that one of the first people he met was just waiting for someone to be his friend.
I was with Gunnels when his friend, Michael offered up some photography equipment. Michael has some camera lenses in storage and wants to give them to Gunnels — for free. This, from a man who has little to nothing in the way of possessions.
Gunnels said he sees countless such acts of giving and selflessness on the street. And he noted that many street people are surprised when Gunnels tells them he’ll be back and then returns. They’re so used to people blowing them off that a simple gesture of showing up moves them to tears.
Later on our walk, Gunnels introduced me to Amber and her friend, George. Amber looked rough around the edges. She was in pain and told Gunnels that she had pancreatitis — probably a result of her heavy drinking — and would be going to the hospital later in the day. Gunnels spent a good amount of time with her, listening and offering support. I found out later that Gunnels gave Amber a cell phone so that she could call him if she needed anything.
Such simple gestures as this go a long way.
“Amber writes poetry when she can, but it’s easy to lose things on the street,” said Gunnels. “It’s easy to lose a notebook or have it ruined by the rain, while you’re sleeping outside.”
All I can do is listen, film, be a messenger, and shed a few tears along the way.
On the ‘Waiting On Division’ Facebook page, Gunnels wrote, “It’s easy to lose things like pencils and paper, or even motivation to write. Motivation lost because somebody gave you a black eye and a swollen jaw, like Amber received just a few weeks ago. Motivation lost because of dehydration and difficulty staying in the shade on a 92-degree day, or out of the rain during a mid-summer thunderstorm.”
(To see Gunnels’s film of Amber reading her poem, ‘I’m a Bum,’ go here.)
Many of the people Gunnels meets are initially shy to be photographed, but once they get to know him, they open up.
“When I first met a man named Henry, he didn’t want my camera out,” Gunnels said. “After meeting him a few more times, he apologized because he said he thought he was rude towards me, and he then asked me to take his photo.
“This time, we were all hanging out and he asked if I would take my camera out again, so I did.”
Making a difference
“I guess I just hope that by explaining what I see and hear, I hope that others will hear and these stories make their way to somebody who can step up and actually help,” said Gunnels. “Respect is an important thing. If it is given, it will be received.”
One by one, Gunnels is making a difference. Since beginning the project earlier this year, Gunnels has helped get three people into rehab. A fourth was considering the option.
Social media plays a huge role in the project. People enjoy seeing themselves in photos and videos and proudly share these with their Facebook friends. The exposure gives them confidence. They feel they are valued.
Many of the folks downtown have a presence on Facebook — yet their own friends may have no idea that the person they see on Facebook has nowhere to live.
Being pushed out
Gunnels’s project comes at a time when friction between business owners and people on the street has steadily been increasing. Business owners in downtown GR see these folks as a nuisance and a deterrent to business. Signs in windows warn, “No Sitting” or “No Public Restrooms, No Soliciting, Thank You.”
This week we headed off to Bagel Beanery, 5316 Clyde Park Ave. SW., which is almost right across the street from the office. So when Mike hit his remote to unlock his car, I was like “Dude, what are you doing? We can just walk there.” The sun was out, it wasn’t raining, and Mike agreed to walk. So we had a “power” lunch with food and exercise.
The restaurant has a bakery featuring bagels and it does not look that much different inside from other similar type restaurants with a mixture of booths and tables. The exception being that Bagel Beanery was here long before those other places and it is locally owned having started more than 20 years ago in downtown Grand Rapids. The Clyde Park location has been open since 1998.
With breakfast and lunch options, you come in and order your selection which is made fresh and then delivered to your table. I was tempted by the August specials but actually ordered off the menu the Bacon Smokehouse Turkey on Tomato Basil. OK, not entirely off the menu as I did swap out the Tomato Basil bagel for an Everything bagel because to me that is the best bagel to have for a bagel sandwich. Bagel Beanery features several of the traditional bagels such as Cinnamon Crunch, Asiago Cheese and Cheddar Herb along with speciality bagels.
My sandwich included turkey, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato with a honey dijon mustard all on top of an Everything bagel accompanied with a pickle spear and bagel chips. It came out within a few minutes of ordering and was delicious. Everything tasted fresh and the salt, sesame seeds and poppy seeds on the bagel complimented the entire sandwich.
The meal came to $6.79 and I have to say, it’s nice to know there is a place just across the street that offers a nice lunch option that is not $10 or more. And to be honest, I have been a longtime fan of Bagel Beanery since it opened its doors in 1995 and was a regular at the Breton Road location between 28th and 29th streets. It’s been a while since I ventured into one and it was great to discover the quality and selection have not diminished. In other words, I can definitely see future walks to Bagel Beanery.
I’m a man who enjoys a good bagel sandwich. I mean, what’s not to love about replacing slabs of bread with a big, hearty, and beautiful bagel? Sure, bagels have more calories and carbs than bread slices – apparently that’s ‘unhealthy’ – but they also have more flavor and options.
Bagels are to a sandwich what chocolates are to life, they just make the experience so much more enjoyable.
As Joanne and I exited the station, I immediately pulled out my keys to unlock my car door. Joanne was quick to call me out about needing a car for a walk across the street. I was happy she did, but little did she know, it was a test! (It wasn’t, but hey, whatever helps me sleep at night.) We casually strolled across the street and entered the doors to what I hoped was bagel heaven.
Bagel Beanery doesn’t look much different on the inside than a Big Apple Bagel or an Einstein Bros. Bagels. There are a beavy of bagels staring you in the face upon arrival with booths and tables mixed throughout. However, Bagel Beanery is locally owned and has been for more than 20 years. That little factoid gives the restaurant a more homely feel than entering a large bagel chain.
My first initial look at the menu left me a little flustered. There were so many options to choose from! I needed to find something that stood out, and “NEW” written in bright red letters did just the trick. The new sandwich was a Baja Chicken Club on Ciabatta. I know alright… I KNOW! Here I am bringing up all of the joys of bagels and I ended up choosing a sandwich on ciabatta, obviously not a bagel. You know what, sue me, it tasted amazing.
The Baja Chicken Club came with oven baked sliced chicken, pepper-jack cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a fiesta cream cheese with the perfect amount of kick. It was wonderful. The sandwich came with bagel chips (also top-notch) and a sliced pickle. For $7.73, it’s a hard meal to beat.
What I love most about Going Local is exposing myself to new restaurants around the area. As of Wednesday, I had never been to Bagel Beanery. I passed it hundreds of times driving to work, but I never took the time to stop and see what it had in store. This morning I made sure to stop for some coffee.
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of one of the most beloved, quotable, and unforgettable Peanuts television specials of all time, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Peanuts Worldwide and Robinette’s are preparing a once-in-a-lifetime celebration: the creation of a unique corn maze, custom-designed to feature Peanuts themes.
The maze, which will feature The Red Baron Scene, will cover 6.5 acres on the farm’s lot. It will be open from September 8 to November 5th, 10 am to 5:30 pm. In addition to the maze, Robinette’s will host a special screening of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on September 8th at 5 pm. Snoopy will also be paying a visit on Saturday, September 24th from 12 pm to 4 pm.
The venue will also incorporate Great Pumpkin artwork into other areas of its venue, providing the perfect setting for visitor photo ops with the Peanuts characters.
Robinette’s is one of more than 80 farms in North America selected by Peanuts Worldwide to create a Great Pumpkin maze this year. Collectively, the farms—which are part of The MAiZE network and span North America in two countries and 32 states, from California to New York, Canada to Florida—will reach more than 2 million visitors during the fall season.
“The Great Pumpkin and cornfield mazes are two of the world’s greatest fall traditions, eagerly anticipated by fans every single year, and we’re so excited to bring them together for this landmark anniversary,” said Jill Schulz, daughter of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. “As we prepare to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, it’s only fitting that we should find a tribute that’s both joyful and visually compelling, just as my father’s characters have been for more than 65 years.”
“We’re thrilled to work with Peanuts Worldwide and The MAiZE, Inc. as we customize our corn maze to celebrate It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” said Ed/Allan Robinette, Owner of Robinette’s. “Corn mazes are all about providing a fun and interactive experience for our visitors—even the adults feel like kids again! And that’s exactly what Peanuts does: Aren’t we all kids again when we see Snoopy and Charlie Brown? This is the perfect match of holiday traditions.”
“It’s been a huge pleasure for us to collaborate with Peanuts Worldwide and corn farms across North America to design these unique, custom corn mazes,” said founder Brett Herbst, The MAiZE, Inc. “We’re all fans of Peanuts and the Great Pumpkin, and we’re delighted to honor the 50th Anniversary by having the Great Pumpkin, this one time only, rise out of a corn maze!”
Admission to the maze is $7 per person (groups of 15 more with one person paying is $6 per person). For more information, visit www.Robinettes.com.
With Metro Cruise upon us and WKTV’s DreamWheels! set to film on Saturday, we take a look back on the stories of the people and cars who make the cruise such a large attraction. From the history surrounding the inception of Metro Cruise to the shops and talents it takes to rejuvenate the beauty of a classic car, and everything in between, our full coverage is below: