Restaurant Week grows and takes on more local flavor

October 28, 2011
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The 11 days of Restaurant Week begin Thursday.

The annual countywide celebration of eating is the brainchild of Experience Grand Rapids President Doug Small, who brought the promotion with him here when he left a similar hospitality position in Denver. Restaurant Week runs through Sunday, Nov. 13.

This year’s event is bigger than the inaugural one: 71 restaurants are participating in version 2.0 compared to the 50 that took part last year. In addition, two meal options will be offered this year. Diners can choose from a specially prepared, three-course meal for $25, which most restaurants are offering, or they can select two specially prepared, three-course meals for $25. Roughly 15 establishments are making the two-for option available.

“An example of one of those is the CityFlats Hotel. They call their restaurant a small-plate restaurant, so they’re doing two-for-$25, and it’s still a really cool menu,” said Small.

All of the menus are listed online at restaurantweekgr.com.

“Some of the restaurants that did very well last year seemed to be the ones that did two things. One, they were very creative in their menu offerings and tended to have items that you wouldn’t find normally on their (regular) menu. Secondly, those same restaurants really put an emphasis on local sourcing of their food product,” he added.

For instance, Small said locally grown blueberries have found a place on some Restaurant Week menus. The fruit can be freeze-dried without a loss of flavor.

“There’s no real reason in November that you can’t use locally sourced foods, according to the chefs,” he said. “And, albeit we represent all, we are big fans of the Local First movement.”

Small felt the chefs heard the call to include local products in their meals because more have done so this year. “I think they’re much more creative than last year,” he said of the current menus.

The week unofficially gets going Tuesday at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education on the campus of Grand Rapids Community College with an event to thank the week’s sponsors and honor the restaurants’ chefs. The culinary school is the event’s primary beneficiary: $1 from every meal purchased will be deposited into a Restaurant Week scholarship fund. Last year, $19,000 was raised to start the fund.

“The sponsors that were with us last year all signed on again and that tells me the event was successful for them, also — and then some. We’ve got more sponsors. We have Founders Bank & Trust this year; we didn’t have a bank last year. They jumped on board because they saw the value in it. And they’re a local bank — they like our push toward the Local First thing,” said Small.

“It’s a night to thank those sponsors as we enter into Restaurant Week and then to celebrate the chefs. We invite every single chef from all the restaurants.”

Experience GR and the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority are underwriting the event, while Sysco, Founders Bank, Valley City Linen, Grey Goose, Founders Brewing Co., Joel Gott Wines and the Downtown Alliance are the major sponsors. Other sponsors are Think2wice, L. Mawby and Black Star Farms.

“I’ve had a lot more people talk to me this year about Restaurant Week than over the same time last year,” said Small. “So people are really looking forward to it, and I’ve been encouraging them to make their reservations.”

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