By Matt Gryczan
Downtown Grand Rapids restauranteurs say that ArtPrize has eclipsed Christmas as the busiest season for walk-in traffic — and that can be a double-edged sword for a restaurant that isn’t prepared for the people crush.
But the boost in patronage is a welcomed problem, particularly since it smooths out the sometimes feast-or-famine nature of serving food downtown. Another interesting note: the number of new faces entering your door can depend on if there’s a hot entry nearby.
“This is the biggest three weeks of the year for us, hands down,” said Jess McDonald, day manager of the Rockwell half of Rockwell Republic at 45 S. Division Ave. “ArtPrize helps to bring in all sorts of new clients.”
The colorful chalkboard on the sidewalk at Rockwell Republic said it all: “ArtPrize 2016 — Stop in for food & Art.” There was a steady flow of patrons for the arts and dining on Thursday morning, some who lingered to savor Corrine Hudson’s entry in oils, “Abstract Landscape.”
“Do you have any more art?” one visitor asked. There was, on the Republic side of the business that was closed for serving lunch, but open for people to saunter through its temporary gallery of 6 other artworks.
“In all honesty, the traffic of new people can depend on where the pieces are located,” Jess said. “Popular pieces obviously bring in more people.”
San Chez Bistro around the corner from Rockwell Republic on Fulton Street steels its waitstaff for the three-week event where “you work your bones to the core,” said proprietor Cindy Schneider. “ArtPrize can make or break a restaurant for the year, especially if you’re not ready for waves of people. The food has to be tasty, hot and on-time to the table.”
During the 8-year run of ArtPrize, she’s seen two restaurants struggle near her location at 38 W. Fulton St. as they tried to ride the event’s wave. They both opened shortly before ArtPrize and closed only a few weeks later.
“They didn’t show well,” Cindy said. “They were slammed by the crowds, and people didn’t have the type of experience you need to bring them back again. The time to open is just after ArtPrize, and take the year to get ready.”
Like Rockwell Republic, San Chez sees more walk-in traffic during ArtPrize than Christmas or any other season of the year now.
It’s uncertain if ArtPrize trumps Christmas as the busiest season, depending on how you define the season and include outside events such as holiday parties, said Hillary Smith, general manager of Bistro Bella Vita at 44 Grandville Ave. SW, “but it’s 100% certain that ArtPrize is a very important time for us.”
She said the restaurant starts to organize its waitstaff starting in July to make sure everything is up to snuff when ArtPrize starts. “We don’t necessarily need to add staff, because we have a big staff here anyway, but we do need to be organized.”
Story and photo printed with permission from Engine and Matthew Gryczan. All copyrights reserved.