Reds practices farm to-table operation

August 13, 2011
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It’s not surprising that Reds on the River has been a popular suburban restaurant since it opened five years ago.

Right out of the gate, readers of the Business Journal’s sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine named the Rockford business the area’s best new restaurant in 2007. Those same readers gave Reds, which sits between the White Pine Trail and the Rogue River, four consecutive fine dining awards from 2008-2011. The Greater Grand Rapids Chefs Association also named Reds Executive Chef Glenn Forgie as the area’s top chef this year.

A lot of things have played into Reds’ success. Its community involvement and charitable contributions may be two of the lesser known factors. Of course, its good food, customer service and popular wine-and-food classes are three of the more obvious reasons. But somewhere in between those elements is a growing trend that Reds embraced early and eagerly.

“People are really looking for farm-to-fork or farm-to-table — low food miles. They want freshness. They want organic foods. One of the things that Reds has really benefited from the get-go is, we have a 100 percent scratch kitchen, and our chef can tell anybody who walks in the door what is in our food. And with the increase in food allergies — the whole gluten-free, peanuts and all of that — people who want to have a nice dinner want to make sure they’re not going to be sick by the time they get home,” said Meredith Gremel, marketing and special events manager at Reds.

“So when you are a scratch kitchen, you do get as much as possible close to home. Where we’ve really built on that is through our cooking classes. People love to interact with our chef, and we’re fortunate at Reds that Chef Glenn Forgie has a great personality in being able to do these classes. He has a really great way with people,” she added.

Gremel said Reds went through a downturn in sales when the economy was at its worst. Traffic to the restaurant slowed a bit as diners outside of Rockford weren’t as likely to make the drive. But traffic from local customers remained good, although their tabs were lower than before.

“What we saw was really more of a dip in what the average person was spending. People were still coming out and enjoying the restaurant, they were just opting for a lower-priced bottle of wine or a glass of wine,” she said. “We went to small plates, which a lot of people really enjoy. So that enabled people to still come in and have a good time.”

Gremel said that, based on the restaurant’s summer volume, her team sees a positive flow continuing for the remainder of 2011.

“Reds has a phenomenal deck right on the river, so we always have a big upswing in the summer. But even before summer, we were definitely feeling a turnaround in the first quarter, which is the toughest time for us because some people head south or go out west,” she said.

But Reds’ toughest months aren’t January and February when cold temps and excessive snowfalls might convince some people to stay home. “When we really see a dip, truthfully, is from the end of February to about the middle of April. That is definitely our slowest time,” she said.

“We actually have pretty good Januarys and Februarys because we have a lot of people that redeem gift cards they got during the holidays. We also host wine-and-cooking classes all through the winter, and that brings a lot of people out. Those are very, very popular,” she added.

Gremel said the cooking shows on network and cable television that teach viewers how to prepare a five-course meal in their own kitchens aren’t keeping people out of Reds, either. In fact, she felt those shows have helped drive more business to Reds via its cooking classes. She said the classes are popular because Forgie doesn’t talk like a cookbook. Instead of just laying out how many cups of this and teaspoons of that something needs, he tells people how they can layer in different flavors and how they should look for certain products when they shop.

“He does classes on different types of meat and techniques on cooking those, and how to work with a butcher or fishmonger, or how to make a reduction sauce that will go with ‘XYZ.’ We get a waiting list every month for those classes, which have exploded in popularity,” said Gremel.

Reds takes a summer vacation from the classes. But Forgie will start up again next month on the third Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“You eat what’s made. So it’s kind of a fun way to go out and have lunch, too,” said Gremel. “We always ask people when they leave what they learned, and they always give us tons and tons of feedback.”

Reds celebrated its fifth anniversary last week, just days after Lance Climie became the restaurant’s new front-of-the-house manager. Climie has 25 years of experience in the industry and has been the general manager for Charley’s Crab, The Peninsular Club and Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc Township, among others.

“To be able to partner with a chef of Glenn Forgie’s caliber and work in the spectacular setting that is Reds on the River in downtown Rockford seems like a dream come true,” said Climie, who is from the area. “West Michigan has always been home to me, and I am so excited to be back.”

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