GRAND RAPIDS – Locavores, listen up: Your options for dining out are about to expand.
Anja Mast and Michael VanderBrug of Trillium Haven Farm in Jenison have signed a long–term lease with local developer Guy Bazzani to open a farm–to–table restaurant in the 84–year–old Kingsley Building at the nexus of Lake Drive, Robinson Road and Genessee Street SE in Eastown.
“They’re truly farm to table, considering they own the farm and the table,” said Bazzani, who is redeveloping the historic five–story structure into a mixed–use development with food, retail and, eventually, apartments as a cohesive gateway into Eastown.
“It should work pretty well,” he said. “I think they have a good brand and a good team.”
Mast and Vanderbrug are well known among local foodies for operating their Community Supported Agriculture farm and selling produce at the Fulton Street Farmers Market and Forest Hills Foods.
Their new restaurant will be full–sized, with 100 inside seats and a 30–seat patio area facing Kava House Cafe on the trapezoid–shaped building’s southeast corner. They are shooting for an early June opening and plan to be open Tuesday through Sunday.
In keeping with the couple’s organic philosophy, the menu will focus on fresh and quality vegetables, but will not be entirely vegetarian or vegan. Mast said they may not have a steak on the menu, but they are planning to include meats raised in a humane and sustainable manner.
The vegetables, however, will be the focus of the plate with the meat as a side item – a reversal of standard culinary practice in many American restaurants.
Joel Wabeke, of six.one.six at the JW Marriott, will be the executive chef.
The farm–to–table restaurant model has also been doing well in Grand Rapids at the new Grove restaurant in East Hills and Bistro Bella Vita downtown.
“We’re hoping to have that same kind of neighborhood clientele as the Green Well,” said Mast. “We want that kind of involvement with the business district.”
At Trillum Haven, they plan on having reasonably–priced lunch and dinner menus, with special occasion tasting menus and special farm dinners.
The atmosphere will be airy with trees and potted herb planters in the “rustic” main dining room featuring huge concrete pillars, old brick walls and handcrafted barn–beam tables. Patrons will be able to see inside the open kitchen, built around a wood–fired oven centerpiece.
“Everything will be simple, clean and authentic; reminding people of the timeless quality of the seasons, but also looking forward to a healthier, greener future – what life could be as opposed to what is,” she said.
The restaurant marks a return to Eastown for Mast and Vanderbrug. They both lived in the neighborhood during and after attending Calvin College in the late 1980s and mid–1990s before starting their farm on Maplewood Street in Jenison in 2001.
They have become passionate advocates of organic farming and community supported agriculture, where members can “buy” a share of the harvest. But, having become farmers market regulars, their new restaurant also means a new path for their farm operations.
Rather than operating on the CSA model, the farm will now entirely support the restaurant.
“Part of the idea is to shrink, focus, and grow out from there,” she said.
“It’s definitely going to be a learning curve,” she said. “But we’re not worried about that. Learning curves are fun. It’s a puzzle to be solved.”
Part of that will be figuring out best practices for growing produce in the winter months, which is a push among the agriculture community statewide, who are experimenting with hoophouses and other greenhouse–like setups to harness solar power during the winter to grow vegetables.
At schools like Michigan State University, the push is on to find ways to grow enough produce in–state year–round to fulfill the state population’s demand for food, she said.
“California will not always be the breadbasket of the world,” she said. “We’re an example in that we’re a work in progress, but we want to be part of solving the central problem.”
The Trillium Haven Restaurant will be the third tenant to open in the Kingsley Building. Allegro Coaching fitness studio has opened on the Robinson Road side, and Icapsa Used Books will open fronting Lake Drive in the next few weeks, said Bazzani.
Bazzani said he is also closing–in on leases with a clothing retail store and a bakery. The upper floors will continue to be used for storage until eventually being renovated into about 30 to 40 apartments.
Built in 1927, the art deco–style building was designed by famed architect George Kingsley to have storefronts on the bottom floor with office and storage space above. It was sealed off to the public in 1954 when Zondervan Corp. took possession of it. About 15 years ago, Zondervan moved out. Kent Records Management has been using it in recent years for document storage.
“There’s quite a buzz regarding that property,” Bazzani said.
BPP from U.S. Green Building Council.