GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Sovengard, a staple on Grand Rapids’ Bridge Street, is one step closer to moving.
On Thursday, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission conditionally approved a special land use permit for the restaurant, which plans to relocate about a mile west on Bridge Street, near the corner of Valley Avenue NW. One commissioner opposed the measure.
“It’s been an incredible experience, being where we are to see the real rebirth and change of the West Side, to be able to participate in that,” said Rick Muschiana, owner of The Sovengard. “But we’re all aware of the changes and the challenges that our current environment has brought us — a little thing called COVID, I guess. And for us, that’s brought immense challenges. The hurdles facing the restaurant industry have been well documented, and we’re not here to talk about that today. But it’s also brought about immense opportunities and abilities to a reason to think outside the box and to rethink really everything.”
The family-owned business plans to demolish the two buildings at 1213 Bridge St. NW near Lincoln Park and build a one-story restaurant with an outdoor beer garden. The 3,800-square-foot restaurant could handle about 90 patrons inside and 100 people outside.
Elliot Muller with developer and part-owner Ben Muller Realty Company said The Sovengard’s owners wanted to remain on the city’s West Side, where they’ve lived for about a decade and worked for about five years.
“This ended up being a terrifically challenging request, especially at a price point a local operator can afford,” he said.
Muller said it took nine months and 26 inquiries to find the site, which checks most of the boxes “but certainly isn’t without its limitations and irregularities.”
Concerns during Thursday’s meeting primarily focused on a lack of parking. Under city regulations, a restaurant of the proposed size must have 48 parking spots; the site currently has one usable on-site space.
Developers said they’re talking with nearby businesses about potentially using their parking lots but also pointed to the availability of on-street parking and public transit.
“Parking is definitely an issue. We’re certainly aware of… the limitations of this site, but it feels like where we are right now is maybe 10 times worse or more,” Muschiana said.
Musciana said businesses near The Sovengard’s current location have no parking and even he struggles to find options near his restaurant.
“It’s basically the wild West… when you pull up to work and you’re trying to find a spot,” he said.
Muller also acknowledged another community concern: the current traffic hazards near the new site.
“The building across the street has been driven through seven times,” he said.
Muller said The Sovengard would defer to city traffic engineers for potential safety improvements. He also said the hope is that adding a new building to the open space will cut down on crashes, which Grand Rapids City Planning Director Kristin Turkelson is a real possibility.
“When we start to bring people and activity and structure to those (open) spaces, we see behavioral changes because it serves as a traffic calming measure,” she explained.
The Sovengard plans to create a Scandanavian “homey feel” at the new neighborhood restaurant. The new iteration will retain its farm-to-table menu and still feature an outdoor bar built inside a repurposed shipping container, which Muschiana said is “a very big calling card of Sovengard.”
“For us, this move represents something that would bring stability, I think it would bring something that is more recognizable for our brands. There’s a lot of challenges to the current space and Lord knows we’ve done our best to shine a metaphoric and literal light in a… once dark corner of Bridge Street, and we’d like to do the same again,” Muschiana said.
The conditional approval waives the required parking and minimum two-story height requirement but requires the new restaurant to follow the city’s master plan and zoning requirements.
Muller told News 8 Monday the next step is finalizing the new restaurant’s design, then sending the proposal out to contractors for pricing. If all goes well, The Sovengard would move into its new space next spring.
The new restaurant’s hours are expected to be 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight on Fridays, 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays.