GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The successor to Amway Grand Plaza Hotel’s iconic Cygnus 27 is officially open — nearly two months later than planned.
On Tuesday, the restaurant perched on Amway Grand’s 27th floor held a quieter, smaller public rollout that abided by state health mandates, including limiting its dining area to 25% capacity.
“It will be challenging, but we are so glad to be open,” Amway Grand Food and Beverage Director Tammy Augustoni stated in a Monday email to News 8.
MDRD is a completely new concept for the Amway Grand that’s meant to “be a bright shining beacon for Grand Rapids,” according to MDRD chef de cuisine Stephan VanHeulen.
“This is fine dining food and a view that cannot be matched in an amazingly remodeled space, and we’re just really looking to modernize Spanish cuisine and take it to the next level,” he explained.
Pronounced Madrid, the restaurant offers complex dishes created from a mix of local ingredients and Spanish imports, from cold smoked salmon brushed with truffle honey served atop puffs filled with truffles, crème fraiche and honey, to pork belly from a black-hoofed, acorn-eating pig found only on Spain and Portugal’s Iberian Peninsula.
The menu also includes salted seared cod over a potato pave with a potato and parsnip puree, Spanish octopus and a charcuterie board filled with Spanish hams and cheeses, including Iberian pork.
VanHeulen said the menu will evolve with one goal in mind: delivering complex dishes you can’t get at home.
SHOWCASING THE CITY
The entire experience is designed around MDRD’s new floor-to-ceiling windows, which wrap around the restaurant. At the heart of MDRD is a layout unlike any other in Grand Rapids: stadium seating capitalizing on skyline views of downtown.
“There isn’t a bad seat in the house, where before (with Cygnus 27), you kind of felt like you had to request a window. You don’t anymore. There’s a special spot everywhere, where everything was designed to be able to see the city,” Augustoni explained.
Amway Grand tapped commercial designer Gensler for the two-year transformation from a special occasion-type space to “industry meets modern meets big city.” The project is part of the historic hotel’s ongoing $40 million tower renovation, which is expected to wrap up this summer.
“We felt like we were missing that lively bar, exciting city vibe, so that really drove the process,” said Augustoni.
In the 18 months after Cygnus closed, crews stripped down the columns, added new heating and air conditioning, installed new floors, windows and carpeting. Every room has distinctive lighting, including the restaurant’s two event spaces on the 28th floor and banquet area on the 29th floor.
“There really isn’t much that hasn’t been touched,” Augustoni said.
Gold and white tile spill across the wall above the marble bar, mimicking falling confetti during Spain’s infamous Carnival.
“It just feels alive again,” Augustoni added.
Designers incorporated wood, marble and earthy tones into the design. Local artist Maddie Jackson’s vivid wall murals transport people to Madrid’s neighborhoods. MDRD also imported authentic Spanish goblets and china from bordering Portugal.
Amway Grand settled on a Spanish theme because it’s different from what the hotel’s other bars and restaurants offer. Similar cuisine by VanHeulen proved popular at the end of Cygnus 27’s run.
VanHeulen said he fell in love with the city of Madrid during a trip to Spain in 2019 and he’s excited to put the fully remodeled kitchen to work.
“In Spain, they have some of the most beautiful restaurants in the world and we’re hoping to create that and hoping this can be a big city restaurant set in Grand Rapids,” the chef explained.
‘A ROLLERCOASTER’ CAUSED BY COVID-19
The restaurant revamp was already underway when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the state’s first dining room shutdown in June. Ruth’s Chris, IDC, The Kitchen Counter, Starbucks and The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck reopened this week from the most recent closure, albeit at 25% capacity. Rendezvous remains closed and the shuttered GP Sports will be replaced.
“It was sports-driven, it was group-driven. It was everything that we couldn’t justify supporting,” Augustoni told News 8 in November. “It was a big space, but really the things we loved about it didn’t make sense anymore.”
Between a dining shutdown, stalled construction, delayed linen deliveries, supply chain issues and capacity restrictions, MDRD has seen its own share of COVID-19 challenges.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Augustoni said.
But the pandemic isn’t stopping MDRD’s plans to bring back staff laid off during the shutdown.
“We missed everyone. We missed our returning customers, we missed seeing guests walk in and feel excited and celebrate with them,” Augustoni said.
“We are very excited to welcome guests at MDRD. Even at the 25% capacity, we feel strongly that we will be able to give diners a safe and enjoyable experience,” she added.
Safe means sanitation stations, timed reservations, a menu accessible by QR code, employee masks and gloves, disinfecting high-touch areas every two hours and sanitizer at each place setting. Guests are asked to do their part by socially distancing from other groups and wearing a mask when they’re not seated at their table. All dining areas will be limited to 25% capacity, including private event rooms.
MDRD tries to recreate intimate dining while incorporating social distance by designing small areas for each table. Augustoni says MDRD’s ample space, private dining spaces and sky-high views are invaluable during the pandemic.
“I think we also offer a place where you can come and forget and enjoy your night and get to see a big city that you don’t get to see as much anymore,” she said.
MDRD’s initial hours are 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant will also be open 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Valentine’s Day.
Because dining space is very limited, guests are strongly encouraged to reserve a spot at MDRD through Open Table or by calling 616.776.6425.