Food Service & Agriculture, Lakeshore, and Retail

Gastro pub opens in historic building

June 9, 2014
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Gastro pub opens in historic building
Joe Fairbarin, right, owner of Joe’s Wooden Nickel gastro pub in downtown Grand Haven, chats with manager Chad Stockwell. Photo by Rachel Weick

A gastro pub is giving a new identity to an historic downtown building at the lakeshore.

Wood-fired barbeque

Joe’s Wooden Nickel officially opened its doors last month in the former Rosebud Bar & Grill building in Grand Haven, at 100 Washington Ave.

The newly remodeled restaurant features work from local artists, live bands, 30 beer taps, a hostess stand from a 1950s Chris-Craft boat and a menu by chef Anthony Gonnella, who specializes in wood-fired barbeque and started Kicked Up Catering in 2009.

The menu features a rib plate, sandwiches, thin-crust pizza, tacos and tamales and salads.

Parts of history

Joe Fairbairn, owner of Joe’s Wooden Nickel, said he purchased Rosebud Bar & Grill from Jim and Martha Adamczyk and closed on the building in March.

“We started doing major construction to redo the interior of the restaurant,” Fairbairn said. “This is kind of an institutional town, so I first and foremost wanted to respect the history of the building. It was the original Grand Haven Post office — and also the history of the Rosebud.”

As a building constructed in 1872, Fairbairn said the interior of the structure was initially very dark, and the first step was to figure out how to cut a window into the side of the building, while maintaining the integrity and stability of the building.

“When you cut into a building, you have to be super cautious, so we worked with some of the local engineers, Denny Dryer, and some of the other people who really know this building,” Fairbairn said. “It is like playing a game of Jenga, you take the wrong piece out. . . . This is an old building, you have to be pretty cautious to maintain the integrity.”

The remodeling of the building included the window on the North 1st Street side, cutting through the archway to bring the two separated bars together and the bathrooms.

Partners

Fairbairn said his decision to open a restaurant is partly the result of a mentor advising him away from an auto-repair shop and into an industry of serving good food and interacting with people.

“I decided to plunge in with the restaurant business,” Fairbairn said. “Of course, one of the big reasons I wanted to go into the restaurant business is chef Anthony. He is just a great chef and a cool guy. I used to joke with him every time I would come to his restaurant: ‘If you ever want to buy a restaurant, buddy, let’s do it together, because I love your cooking.’”

Fairbairn said the name for the restaurant derives from a family phrase about not getting caught with “wooden nickels” and Gonnella's speciality in wood-fired barbeque.

“When Anthony and I got together, somehow we started talking about wood fire, and he said something like wooden nickel, and a light bulb went off,” Fairbairn said.

"Just be cool"

Since the restaurant opened, Fairbairn said he's been "genuinely humbled by the response of the local business leaders, the community, the people here."

"It is as if they are cheering us on," Fairbairn said. "And I have heard from so many people here in town they are so excited there is a new menu in downtown Grand Haven to try, a fresh new approach."

Joe’s Wooden Nickel seeks to become an experience for customers and is using social media and a couple upcoming marketing campaigns to work to set itself apart.

“Our vision of Joe’s Wooden Nickel is to be the first gastro pub in Grand Haven, and we feel like we are getting there,” Fairbairn said. “The one thing I tell my staff is, ‘Let’s just be cool today, have fun, enjoy yourself.’ If you really want to be a part of something bigger than yourself, you’re passionate about it, and you’re enjoying it.”

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