GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The first Tupelo Honey restaurant in the Great Lakes region is now open in downtown Grand Rapids.
Tupelo Honey served its first guest Tuesday, almost 10 months to the day News 8 first reported the restaurant chain was moving into the ground floor of the Hyatt Place at the corner of Pearl Street and Ottawa Avenue NW.
ON THE MENU
The restaurant sports the same Southern fare as other Tupelo Honey locations, including its signature honey-dusted fried chicken and bourbon peppercorn glazed meatloaf — both favorites of corporate executive chef Eric Gabrynowicz.
“You’re going to see grits and fried green tomatoes and collard greens with bacon. That’s something that I think we bring to the table that not a lot of restaurants around here are focusing on, and that’s our whole focus and our passion,” he said.
Gabrynowicz says guests can also expect “big, solid beefy brunches” with mimosas and bloody Marys on Saturday and Sunday.
But the menu isn’t limited to meat-filled foods.
“Part of Southern hospitality is making sure there’s something for everyone. So we have some really awesome vegetable bowls,” Gabrynowicz said. “We are 100% focused on making sure everyone has something, so we can make little tweaks to make things vegan, little tweaks to always accommodate allergies.”
GROWING IN GRAND RAPIDS
Inside Grand Rapids’ newest restaurant, Tupelo Honey has blended its Southern-style bar and wallpaper with uniquely Michigan touches, including a mural Gabrynowicz calls “an ode to old Michigan beer,” a dining area designed like a beer garden, and locally brewed craft beer flowing from at least half of the restaurant’s 24 taps.
Gabrynowicz says the company had been eyeing Grand Rapids for a while because of its close partnership with Founders Brewing Co. and success in another Beer City, USA: Asheville, North Carolina.
“Then when we finally pulled the trigger, we hit it right in the middle of a pandemic. So we had a press pause for a little bit,” he said. “It took a little longer than we had expected, but we are so grateful to be opening now.”
Gabrynowicz said while Grand Rapids’ Tupelo Honey was about 80% complete, the company was 100% committed when the pandemic set in, temporarily stalling construction. Instead of opening in spring, Tupelo Honey will now celebrate its grand opening Sept. 29.
“The fact that we’re opening in the middle of a pandemic, to me, is a testament to our teams here at Tupelo and how hard they work and how much we want to be here in Michigan,” the executive chef said.
‘COVID KILLER’ AMONG PANDEMIC PIVOTS
The Grand Rapids restaurant is Tupelo Honey’s first location to open since the pandemic started. The last time the company celebrated such a milestone was March 16.
“We went from ‘Here’s our grand opening’ to everything’s takeout only. And that was a great learning experience for us… It taught us a lot about how to be nimble and make decisions on the fly,” he said.
“We were able to save jobs, we were able to make sure that we were able to survive this. And honestly, the fact that we’re growing in the middle of a pandemic is so encouraging for us as at Tupelo Honey, and really is a wonderful thing,” he added.
Gabrynowicz says the pandemic prompted Tupelo Honey to trim its menu so it’s identical across all locations for the first time in company history. The restaurant will operate at a state-mandated lower capacity with socially distanced tables and staff wearing masks. Seating is also available on Tupelo Honey’s outdoor patio, weather permitting.
Gabrynowicz says an employee he has nicknamed “the COVID killer” is dedicated to sanitizing all high touch points continuously.
“I think it’s really important in today’s day and age to make sure that everyone feels safe in our restaurants,” the executive chef said.
In a nod to the growing issue of food insecurity during the pandemic, Tupelo Honey is collecting guest donations to support Feeding America West Michigan’s food pantry division.
“Feeding kids in this country is one of the most important things with food insecurity affecting one in four children in western Michigan and one in five in the entire United States. I think it’s incredibly important that we focus on that,” Gabrynowicz said. “Anything we can do to get children fed and have food is … very important, especially nowadays.”
Tupelo Honey is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.