GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An explosion of art is ready to greet customers of West Michigan’s first Condado Tacos restaurant, opening Thursday in the ground floor of Bridge Street Lofts on Grand Rapids’ West Side.
Ten local artists turned the restaurant’s freshly built surfaces into their canvas, creating a colorful scavenger hunt for art aficionados.
“Every single day I walk in this space, I see a different part of the wall that I didn’t even notice before because there’s so many visual… nuances that they put in,” general manager Tina Femeyer said.
Built into the layers of art are “Easter eggs” of Grand Rapids — from area code 616 to downtown landmarks like Rosa Parks Circle, the Blue Bridge and the Calder sculpture.
“This location specifically is the 21st location Condado location so you will see references to 21 in quite a few (spots),” said Femeyer. “It’s also 2021, so the 21st store in 2021.”
Some images you can find at every Condado are folded into the vibrant mix of art, including a depiction of owner Joe Kahn, white ghost chili peppers and a square-mouthed wolf-like character known as the Peezler.
Only a keen eye will catch Nick Nortier‘s nod to the restaurant’s Bridge Street predecessor. Hiding under the top layers of paint above the bar is an image of the Red Lion’s sign.
Restaurant employees say it took them about two weeks to spot the underpainting.
“We love coming in here. It’s fun to come in to work, it’s fun to come in and eat,” Femeyer said.
Before Condado opens a new restaurant, its creative director scours the area for local artists who will make a wall or corner of the restaurant their own.
“Having art in a restaurant space I think helps separate us from everyone else. It’s easy to put up four walls and put up a coat of paint and call it done, but I think committing to the local community and local art helps to foster that creative environment and make sure that we’re giving back to the community in a way that just opening a restaurant or a business doesn’t have the ability to,” Femeyer explained.
HISTORY LESSON BUILT INTO BARTOP
Grand Rapids illustrator and designer Piper Adonya built Condado’s bartop into a black and white lesson of the city’s history, starting in 1899 with Grand Rapids Public Schools’ first African-American teacher, Hattie Beverly.
“For her to face challenges and the hardships that were head and not just in the initial moment of being accepted as the first African American teacher, but to go in every day knowing there’s going to be challenges, period, that was a really powerful thing for me,” she said.
Adonya also included tributes to the region’s Great Lakes and rivers, Grand Rapids’ indigenous Potawatomi, Ottawa (Odawa) and Chippewa (Ojibwa) tribes, the Asian-Pacific Festival and Detroit native Rosa Parks.
“When there’s underrepresentation anywhere, it hurts people everywhere. And so I feel like people being able to be seen, it helps an entire community no matter what their background is. It helps bring a rich vibrancy to the community that we wouldn’t have otherwise had,” she explained.
Adonya says she picked Parks for her piece because Rosa Parks Circle is at the heart of Grand Rapids and working on a bar top reminded her of Civil Rights demonstrations.
“(I) got to thinking about the sit-ins that took place in the ’60s, and even with what’s happening now with Black Lives Matter, and I know that this is a conversation piece. And that’s one of the reasons I love art — that it’s not here just to be beautiful or shiny or pretty, but it’s also here to challenge us and it’s here to help hold us accountable,” she said.
Adonya spent about 24 hours over three days bringing her penciled design to life at Condado. It took seven layers of black and white paint, custom stencils and plenty of epoxy.
While customers of Condado may come for the food and drinks, Adonya is hopeful they’ll answer the siren’s call created by the group of artists.
“Art has the ability to woo her viewer before they realize that they’re being changed and transformed by her… Where words might fail, art can fill in the blanks or art can trespass past words. It can go past words, it can go past where somebody might say something because we have a barrier sometimes with people but with art, we just see it. And when we allow art to speak to us, it can change us in powerful ways,” she explained.
When the restaurant opens, Condado staff will also moonlight as art interpreters. Femeyer says each employee will learn about and meet the artists who designed their unique restaurant within three weeks.
“They did such an amazing job. The art here is just glorious,” Adonya said.
GRAND RAPIDS ‘A NATURAL FIT’
The Bridge Street Condado is the Ohio-based restaurant chain’s fourth location in Michigan but the first on this side of the state.
“We’re looking at great medium-sized cities that… have a void in fun, funky spaces. And our build-your-own taco concept really allows us to kind of appeal to everyone. Grand Rapids has a great vibe, especially on this side of town on Bridge Street, so it felt like a natural fit,” Femeyer said.
Condado offers about 30 topping options to customize its tacos, queso and guacamole, from Thai chili tofu and jackfruit to pulled pork and braised beef brisket.
“We’re great for people that are coming and want something traditional, (or) want to really push the limits culinarily. They can order vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and get to modify it exactly how they want,” explained Femeyer.
The bar is stocked with more than 100 varieties of blue agave tequila as well as three Mexican-style beers: Modelo Especial, Corona and Pacifico. A rotating variety of drafts will flow from Condado’s 13 taps, including some Michigan favorites. Specialty cocktails are also available, including margaritas created on site.
OPENING DURING A PANDEMIC
Following current COVID-19 restrictions set by the state, Condado’s table, patio and bar seating will be socially distanced and limited to 25% of normal capacity. Visitors must wear a mask when they’re not seated and cannot stand at the bar.
Staff will also be wearing masks. Femeyer says they will be using hand wash and sanitizer changing timers.
Condado is also available for takeout, delivery or curbside pickup on neighboring Alabama Street. Customers can order at http://www.condadotacos.com/order-online/ or through Door Dash and Uber Eats.
Once the state mandated 10 p.m. curfew lifts for businesses, Condado will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday, with plans to extend business hours to midnight during the summer.
Conando opens at 11 a.m. Thursday. The restaurant will celebrate its grand opening day by giving away a free taco with every order. The giveaways will continue through the weekend on Condado Tacos’ Facebook and Instagram pages.
“Art and food and music all tie together. It all creates a neighborhood feeling that people want to be around so we’re happy to combine all that together,” Femeyer said.