Plaza Cafe Gets Makeover

February 2, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Plaza Café at Plaza Towers is in the midst of a renovation, menu rewrite and significant service upgrade for condominium residents.

“It’s been almost 10 years, and we figured we need to make it a little more upscale,” said Mike Donnelly, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Plaza Towers, which operates the restaurant. “It started off with some new carpet. Then we decided that we’d better reupholster the chairs, and then it was get new chairs and new tables. Finally we said, ‘Why don’t we just gut the whole thing.’”

Now split into separate and yet-unnamed restaurant and lounge areas, the 3,600-square-foot facility is inching toward its grand re-opening later this month. Due to restrictions from the Marriott chain, the restaurant was closed for only three weeks during December and has been open through most of the construction. The lounge has been closed for more than two months.

The vision of architect and Western Michigan University professor Charlotte Pease, recently relocated from Boston, the 110-seat restaurant is intended to be warm and inviting; the lounge cosmopolitan. Originally, the café was a large, simple room with a bar and tables.

“We had to do this with the general competition downtown today,” said Donnelly, indicating the renovation was not directly related to the upcoming JW Marriott Hotel a block away. “We just didn’t have what it takes to compete, so this is hopefully going to put us on the competitive edge.”

The décor is not the only thing getting an upgrade, as the menu is being entirely rewritten by new chef Dan Kelley, a longtime veteran of the Amway Grand Plaza family of restaurants.

With the already strong selection of steakhouses, seafood restaurants and other high-end fare in the neighborhood, including those right across Monroe Avenue at The BOB, the new restaurant is opting for a menu driven by comfort foods, such as meat loaf, pot pies, and macaroni and cheese. The addition of a Class A hood in the dining area will allow the restaurant to build on its successful pasta bar with some variety of open display cooking.

The home-cooked theme of the menu is intended to appeal to what Donnelly hopes will be the café’s strongest market: residents of the Plaza Towers condominiums and apartments. In past years, room service was only available to Marriott guests, but will now be extended to the entire Plaza Towers complex. As such, the menu is being written with input from individual residents — including some family recipes — as well as the condominium association and the building’s owners, Eenhoorn Springlake LP.

Coincidentally, the upgrades are occurring as nearly 1,000 new residential condominium units are under development in downtown Grand Rapids, including a luxury skyscraper on the opposite side of the Grand River: River House at Bridgewater Place, which was designed with input from current and former Plaza Towers residents.

“This will really help,” said Donna Dozeman, Plaza Towers resident and principal of Dozeman Realty Group, which specializes in downtown residential units. She led the original Plaza Towers (post-renovation) sell-out in 1997. “It’s an added amenity. We’ve got these amenities down here (in the café), but room service for condominiums will be awesome. It’s an amenity no one else has.”     

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