GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new restaurant is preparing to open up in the space that used to hold J. Gardella’s Tavern in downtown Grand Rapids.
Scholar is getting ready to train its staff and will open sometime in October, according to the couple operating it, Alivia and Taylor Boeschenstein. The official grand opening date will be announced on its social media accounts.
The building at 11 Ionia Ave. near Fulton Street dates back to at least the early 1880s, the Grand Rapids History Center previously told News 8. Throughout its history it has been a home; an arcade; a wholesale fruit business; a wholesale confectioner’s, bakers and ice cream equipment supplier; and a wholesale appliances store.
It eventually became J. Gardella’s, a popular bar that stayed open for more than two decades before closing in 2020.
Michael Winks bought the property in 2021 after another buyer backed out and hired the Boeschensteins to operate it, with Alivia Boeschenstein working as the general manager and Taylor Boeschenstein working as the executive chef.
“(He) is a very knowledgeable guy, definitely is very passionate about the restaurant industry and has always wanted to dip his toes into the industry and have a place that he could call his own,” Taylor Boeschenstein said.
The couple met while working at Hobos Tavern in Muskegon, where he was a line cook and she was a server. They moved to Grand Rapids while she was studying at Grand Valley State University.
Their most recent project was opening Forty Pearl in downtown Grand Rapids together.
“We’re used to working together already. Works well with our lives and our schedules,” Taylor Boeschenstein said. “… If you can’t be with your wife all the time, what are you doing?”
As they set out to put together the Scholar concept, they wanted to create something new for Grand Rapids, he said.
“We really wanted to bring something to this area that was new, something that hasn’t been here before,” he said. “And something that also respected the past. We wanted to give a nod to the history of the city, to the history of this building.”
Alivia Boeschenstein said the original concept was a “cozy library feeling,” which their designer elevated.
“I was obsessed with this green color, so that’s why you kind of see it everywhere. And it just made sense, like scholarly, higher end,” she explained.
Throughout the three levels of the restaurant, which each have their own bar, guests will find carefully-placed old books and paintings. A cocktail lounge in the basement has a fireplace, and much of the seating is oversized chairs.
Taylor Boeschenstein said keeping things spaced out allows for “more intimate relationship building, business dinners or just nights out with friends and family.”
“It still feels cozy. It doesn’t feel like it’s such a big space, even though it is,” Alivia Boeschenstein said.
She said while their decorator worked to keep all three floors cohesive, they each offer a different vibe.
“You can really get a different experience depending on where you sit. So like downstairs, it’s more lounging. Upstairs, it’s more airy,” Alivia Boeschenstein said.
The menu will offer entrees that all have origins in the Americas. Taylor Boeschenstein said he wanted to “dive deep into the past” for the entrees.
Coming out of the kitchen will be items like deviled eggs, Delmonico steak, Salisbury steak and cedar plank sockeye salmon. There’s also a cocktail selection, which lists the years they were created — like the old fashioned, created in 1895.
Scholar will also offer an extensive wine list, including some nonalcoholic options. The couple explained they made sure to include multiple price points in the wine list.
“You can have an extravagant bottle of wine and impress some friends, or you could have a very reasonable bottle of wine,” Taylor Boeschenstein said.
As the couple gets ready to train their staff, they said they have all but few positions filled. They said they strive to have a working environment with a family culture, and they’re blessed to have so many people hired already.
A website for Scholar will be launched soon. The couple said people seem excited to see the transformation of the building.
“It’s been fun to bring people through who have come to Gardella’s in the past and had a party experience,” Taylor Boeschenstein said. “… Everybody comes back and says, ‘Oh, I remember meeting so and so over there or having a party and this happened or this person did this. And I am so excited to be here now and be able to have a refined experience later in life and reminisce on those days of having fun in college and what Gardella’s bar used to be,’ which was certainly a staple in the community for sure.”