Red Ball Jet Ready To Open

August 17, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Gilmore Collection will open the long-awaited Red Ball Jet Café to the public on Wednesday.

In keeping with the company’s long-standing tradition, the Gilmores will actually unveil the new restaurant with fundraising events this week prior to the grand opening. The events are a benefit for the Creston neighborhood and business associations.

Both groups backed the Gilmore Collection’s four-year effort to turn the former Creston branch library at 1431 Plainfield Ave. NE into the Red Ball Jet Café by providing verbal and written support for the project to the Planning Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the City Commission.

The Gilmore Collection bought the building from the city for $95,000 in 2003. At one point in the development, the company backed away from the project when it looked like converting the library into the cafe would be too expensive to complete.

“It has been a long trek,” said Gregory Gilmore, president of the Gilmore Collection. “But, you know, some good things are not always easy to put together.”

The Red Ball Jet Café is a combination coffeehouse, bakery and casual dining restaurant that will offer wood-fired pizza, salmon, sandwiches and salads. The dining room will seat about 50, and the sidewalk patio will offer seating for 50 more.

Initially, the plan included a dining area in a garden-like setting on the roof with room for 40 customers. But the idea was scrapped when it became too costly to build and maintain what essentially would be a seasonal part of the business.

The café is in a single-story brick building that sits on a triangular-shaped block that is bordered by Coit and Quimby streets and Plainfield Avenue. The dining area offers about 900 square feet.

Design Plus produced the concept design for what was primarily an interior project, and Visser Brothers Inc. managed the renovation. No structural or façade changes were made to the building.

City commissioners recently approved the transfer of an escrowed liquor license that the Gilmores bought from a limited partnership in Whitehall. The application now goes to the Liquor Control Commission in Lansing for final approval.

“We will not open with a liquor license. That will be coming six months or so down the road when we roll that in. The restaurant is more of a coffeehouse concept anyway, so it will be just another amenity that we will add to the project,” said Gilmore.

The Red Ball Jet Café becomes the 23rd eatery in the Gilmore Collection. Not all of the restaurants are housed in separate buildings. Some are grouped in a single building, such as those housed in The BOB in downtown Grand Rapids. Some are located in buildings the Gilmores don’t own, such as the Lil’ Bite in Bridgewater Place.

The café will be open seven days a week starting at 7 a.m. and will close at different times depending on the day of the week. But it will stay open until at least 9 p.m. every day, and until 11 p.m. on Saturdays. Jose and Lisa Anico will manage the restaurant.

“Jose is from the Dominican Republic and his wife, Lisa, is Vietnamese. She actually grew up in the neighborhood. They’re new to us, but they’re great people who love food,” said Gilmore.

The Gilmore Collection didn’t name the restaurant the Red Ball Jet Café after an aircraft or an express train. Instead, the name came from a once-popular brand of sneakers. Red Ball Inc. made Red Ball Jets from 1951 to 1971. The shoes had a little red ball on the back of the heel, and an ad in the early 1960s had a catchy jingle that went: Run a little faster. Jump a little higher. The boy in the Red Ball Jets.

“Red Ball Jet Café, run a little faster and jump a little higher,” said Gilmore with a broad smile in his voice. “That was their motto and that’s ours, too, after you drink a few of our coffees.”   

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