Bite Is To Change Its Form Daily

July 3, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — It isn’t wrong to call it a new downtown restaurant; it’s just not a precise description of what this place will actually be. Even its name is unusual, and then, again, it’s not. But, for sure, the concept is a first for Grand Rapids.

Bite is the latest concoction from The Gilmore Collection, owner of The BOB, Rose’s, the Kirby House, the Flat River Grill and others, and it’s scheduled to open for business in mid-August in the Waters Building at the northwest corner of Ottawa Avenue and Pearl Street NW.

And if Bite — as in, ‘Let’s grab a bite before the concert’ — succeeds, it should easily sink its teeth into at least three distinct markets: dine-in, take-out and cook-at-home. Then there is the pantyhose thing. But that can wait.

Gregory Gilmore, CEO of the Gilmore Collection, said his firm is taking five disparate segments and loading these into a single concept for Bite, an idea largely targeted to tenants of the Waters Building. A coffeehouse, a breakfast, lunch and dinner delicatessen, a market that sells fresh produce, breads, meats and fish, a bar, and a full-service restaurant all will be under the Bite roof.

“During the morning and during the day, we’re a walk-up deli. But in the evening, we’ll turn into a restaurant,” said Gilmore.

“It’s a little different, but the whole idea was to really cater to the tenants in the building. There are, I think, around 900 tenants. So we surveyed them and asked them what they were interested in,” he added.

The survey showed that Waters Building tenants were very interested in soups, salads and sandwiches, and those three deli items became the basis for Bite. Gilmore said the deli would offer at least 10 soups, 10 types of salads and 10 different sandwiches daily, including an option to build a sandwich, along with a lot of other daytime foods.

But at the end of the workday, Bite will have hot meals ready to go or to be put together so they can be cooked at home. The bar will be open for that after-work drink, as will the restaurant for those who want to get a bite before the concert, game or play.

Gilmore said he doesn’t expect Bite to be a place where diners linger for hours over their meals, so service will have a brisk pace if a customer wants that. Dinner entrees, he said, would be value priced, and the deli would remain open when the restaurant begins serving.

The idea behind Bite came from a conversation the Gilmores had with David Cassard and Joseph Zainea of the Waters Corp., which owns the Waters Building. They suggested the starting point for the new restaurant’s clientele be the tenants in the city’s second-largest office structure — a 282,000-square-foot building that is about 92 percent occupied — but not be limited to them.

“We need to have other patronage outside of the tenants. So we thought about the surrounding area and what could drive some traffic toward us. We’re not trying to be all things to all people, but we are trying to be very broad,” said Gilmore.

As for the name, Gilmore said he chose Bite because it’s a bit edgy for a site that has a history of housing fairly conservative restaurants. So he is betting that Bite will mark a new era for eateries there. He also sees Bite as more than just a name. For Gilmore, it will also be a marketing phrase and that is how he plans to use it.

“You really have to see the whole thing together for the name to work,” he said. “The concept is relatively new in some respects. There are places that are similar to this, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s a big departure from what we typically do and that does make it kind of fun.”

The outdoor patio will open next month, too, and Bite will have 40 workers. Gilmore said he signed a five-year lease for 10,000 square feet, but joked he would have the space for “as long as he is going to be alive.” He said the biggest plus of the site is its location and the biggest drawback of the site may also be its location.

The most successful restaurant there was the Grand River Saloon, which had a great run until shortly after the Van Andel Arena debuted. Gilmore felt that when the arena opened the nighttime downtown traffic went south to Fulton Street and the Saloon made a mistake by continuing to target that crowd as its key customer base, something he said Bite won’t do.

“Our focus is on breakfast, lunch and midday, and we’ll be closing relatively early in the evening and not looking to be a bar with late-night business,” he said. “We’re going to cater to the downtown crowd until they’re gone. The focus is the day parts and early evening, not late evening.”

There is one thing that won’t be listed on the menu, but something that certainly qualifies an as integral part of the concept, and that is the convenience that Gilmore hopes Bite offers tenants and other nearby downtowners.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, snacks, meals to go and picnic baskets will all just be a few steps away. And besides offering the same fresh goods that the deli and restaurant will use each day, the market will also sell chocolates, nuts, greeting cards, flowers, newspapers, and, yes, even those pantyhose.

“We will actually have a lot of personal sundries. If a lady has a run in her stocking on the way to the opera, we’ll be one of the few places downtown that she could stop in and maybe find a pair of nylons,” Gilmore said. “So, we’re trying to cover a lot of bases.”           

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