GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids couple’s largest do-it-yourself project is paying off for foodies in the Creston neighborhood.
Café Mamo opened late last month at the corner of Plainfield Avenue and Sweet Street NE.
In between their full-time jobs, head chef and co-owner Michael Goessman and his wife Summer spent months transforming the dark, industrial-style storefront into a bright, natural space for dining.
Inside, the new bar and natural wood tables seat up to 32 guests. Outside, the freshly poured patio can welcome 16 people.
“There’s not a single corner you can point at in here that we haven’t spent hours contemplating and building and designing ourselves,” Goessman said.
Like many businesses and homeowners during this pandemic, the couple encountered and adapted to supply chain setbacks from the rising price of lumber to the unavailability of masons.
“Summer just grabbed the mortar one day and was like, ‘I think he’d just do it like this.’ And it worked out. She did it like that and it looks good,” Goessman said. “You can hardly notice that it was somebody’s first try doing some of these things.”
Goessman said his wife also saved money by making the tabletops.
Their work included digging a trench for a new water line, building a new parking lot and creating an outdoor herb garden.
“A year ago, this was just like a trashy parking lot with garbage in it,” said Goessman. “(Now) everybody that walks past can at least enjoy like a little bit of green space.”
A MENU WITH A MISSION
Café Mamo combines French cooking techniques with traditional Midwestern food, from ranch dip and rolls to bison burgers and trout.
Goessman said the rotating menu features food, wine and Prohibition era cocktails with a twist that he and his wife enjoy at home.
“There wasn’t really anything in Grand Rapids cooking the type of food and serving the type of drinks that we thought worked well in tandem together,” he added.
Goessman said they pay special attention to sourcing ingredients from Michigan farms and growers with sustainable regenerative practices.
“We’re kind of on a mission to let people know that good food exists. There’s a way to eat that is both super delicious and good for the environment. It’s good for small communities. It’s good for the farmers. And would we owe everything to the farmers. The producers are everything for us,” Goessman said.
One of Café Mamo’s suppliers is Apsey Farms in Reed City, which uses natural grazing techniques with its cattle.
“That makes the cows more healthy, that brings in more wildlife in terms of bugs and worms, which makes the chickens more healthy, which makes just like insanely delicious product that… I mean, we’ve just opened and it’s hard for us to keep it in stock,” Goessman said.
Goessman said the cows are raised for longer, leading to higher overhead costs for the farm. That means higher plate prices at Café Mamo, but for a higher purpose.
“Every time you come to Café Mamo and you buy a steak or you buy the chicken, you’re keeping corporate America off of small-town farms. You’re keeping them from buying the farmland and turning it into condominiums or turning it into a monoculture. You’re keeping the land healthy. You’re keeping this family in business. And it’s, the money just goes right back into the pocket of the farmer,” Goessman said.
Goessman and his wife Summer met in his native Montana while working at a restaurant together. Their passion for the food and beverage industry eventually brought them to New York City, where Goessman worked as a chef in Michelin-starred restaurants including Luksus. Summer, a Reed City native, became a certified sommelier and worked her way up to head sommelier of a restaurant. The couple’s careers then led them to Nashville before moving to Grand Rapids about three years ago.
A love of food is deeply rooted in Goessman’s family.
“My whole family is like this: No matter what you call to talk about, you always have to tell each other what you had for dinner or what you’re going to make for dinner next,” he said.
Café Mamo earns its name from Goessman’s garden-loving grandmother.
“We’d go visit her and we’d have to pick up Rice Krispies at the store because she didn’t have cereal. And as a small child, she’s lecturing me about Monsanto and GMOs and the monocultures and how there’s empty calories in that, and you should just have some real whole grains for breakfast,” he reflected. “I’ve always just kind of known that there’s good and bad in the food production world on the farm world, and there’s definitely an avenue to be able to do the right thing. And I think we’re doing the right thing.”
His love for the hospitality industry also grew when his mother — a culinary school graduate — became the cook at his small school in Gallatin Gateway, Montana.
“Just kind of seeing kids’ reactions and they’d have their parents come in for lunch, it was like the cafeteria at our school was the best restaurant in this small town,” he said.
“Seeing people’s reactions when they’re well fed… I’ve always really loved that,” he added.
Goessman says when he calls Mamo in Washington after the café closes, she’ll ask him what he cooked and sometimes for some culinary advice.
“It’s nice to… finally come far enough as a cook to be able to give them pointers instead of the other way around,” he said with a laugh.
Café Mamo is from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Brunch is served on weekends, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The rotating menu can be found on Café Mamo’s Facebook page.
Goessman said he hopes to eventually partner with a nearby school to teach gardening and cooking to children.
“Ultimately, I cook because I love to feed people. I love to make people happy. And that’s a knowledge that I feel like I have to share with other people,” he said.