Maggies Moving

August 29, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — When patrons of Maggie’s Kitchen heard that the restaurant would be closed for a month, they didn’t know whether to cry or to start hording their favorite homemade authentic Mexican dishes.

The Bridge Street NW café has a very loyal following. Asking them to go without their barbacoa and guisado for upwards of four weeks was a tall order. Fortunately, the regulars were granted a bit of delicious relief when the building’s owner decided to let Maggie and company stick around as long as necessary while they prepared their new space across the street.

The move is part of a master plan developed by 33-year-old Luis Ramirez II. He owns the café, named for his grandmother, Magdalena “Maggie” Garcia. His father, Luis Ramirez Sr. owns the Moctezuma grocery on the other side of the complex intersection of Bridge Street, Lexington Avenue and Stocking Avenue. Within months, work should begin on a new 4,000-square-foot building on the northeast corner of the intersection. The building, which will adjoin the Moctezuma market, will house the new Maggie’s Kitchen.

In the meantime, the Ramirezes are finishing up the restoration of the former Hero’s sub sandwich shop. Ramirez purchased the space, which adjoins his father’s Moctezuma building. Within a few weeks, the space will be ready to become the temporary home of Maggie’s Kitchen.

The younger Ramirez had planned to shutter Maggie’s on Sept. 4 and reopen as soon as possible. That would have likely meant a month or more of lost business. Under the new arrangement, Ramirez expects that the restaurant will be closed less than a week as the equipment is transferred between the two spaces. He is excited to operate out of a space he owns, but he does not look forward to a dining room half the size of the current 100-seater. Ramirez can deal with that, knowing that the move puts him one step closer to occupying the permanent home of Maggie’s Kitchen, which will accommodate 150 patrons.

Ramirez, who learned his business savvy while working alongside his father and grandmother, is nervous about an upcoming important date. On Sept. 8, he will meet with city planners for a site plan review of the new facility. He hopes that it will be approved without major changes. He is especially eager for approval of the 83-spot parking facility that would serve the new Maggie’s as well as his father’s market.

Ramirez would not share the budget for the project, which includes construction of the new building as well as extensive exterior paving and landscape work. He hinted that it might approach $1 million. The 4,000-square-foot block-construction building is fairly simple in design, though it will drastically change the appearance of the intersection. The façade opens on the diagonal, looking across the intersection at the current Maggie’s location. The parking area will be to the rear, accessible from Lexington. A common entrance will join the two Ramirez businesses: Take a left to enter Moctezuma, a right for Maggie’s.

Along with the increased size of the new location, Ramirez promises other improvements. He will begin accepting credit cards. He plans to expand the menu (though staying true to the authentic Mexican recipes Maggie’s is famous for). He’ll extend the café’s days and hours of business — moving to a seven-day schedule and later evenings to capture the dinner crowd. Ramirez said that his grandmother plans to retire this year, so “now it’s time for the next generation to take over.”

If the planning and construction process goes smoothly, Ramirez could find the new café opening as soon as next summer. He said that it will be absolutely no later than early 2007.

Once it does open, he will not abandon the smaller, temporary space. Instead, he will tailor “Maggie’s Kitchen Express,” as he’s calling it, to serve the take-out crowd, especially late at night. Ramirez has noted the success that Bridge Street Pizza has found serving the crowds flowing in and out of Monte’s, O’Toole’s and other West Side hangouts. He did not want to miss out on that opportunity.

Once the new Maggie’s Kitchen is up and running, Ramirez has further expansion plans. He said at some point, when the time is right, he would like to buy his father’s store.

“I mean, I don’t want to push him out of the way,” he said. “Whenever he’s ready … I’m sure he’ll still get his monthly check or bonus. You know, his residuals.”

By that time, Ramirez hopes that the investment in revitalization that has spread throughout downtown Grand Rapids will reach out to join him and the handful of other entrepreneurs who are redefining the look of the Stockbridge area.

“It’s going to be completely different,” he said. “Fresh. New. It’s going to be great.”    

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