GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An iconic piece of food history is coming back to Grand Rapids.
Red Hot Inn restaurant owner Jim Koukios is bringing back the business in food truck form. He announced the plans on Facebook Friday.
“Our chili is a Koukios family recipe that’s been around Grand Rapids for 100 years … and I thought this was the easiest and the best way to get back into the business,” he said.
He tells News 8 he bought a customized trailer from Detroit Custom Truck & Trailer, which he will hook up to his bright red pickup truck to travel around town. Koukios brought the trailer home last week and fired it up to cook for a family reunion.
Koukios says the Red Hot GR food truck is in the process of getting wrapped and the necessary health, food and fire inspections to begin serving up some Red Hot Inn favorites. The beginning menu will include fries, chili cheese fries, chili dogs and soft drinks.
If all goes well, the Red Hot GR food truck will hit the road by the end of September.
Koukios expects to start off with private events and a few venue visits this year until winding down for the season in November. Next year, he hopes to expand to food truck events and grow the menu to include Red Hot Inn’s Greek chicken salad and possibly some breakfast items and burgers.
Koukios sold the Red Hot Inn property to an expanding Priority Health because “they made us an offer we couldn’t say no to.” But he says he and his family have been thinking about ways to bring back their restaurant after overwhelming community support. On the Red Hot Inn’s last day in June 2019, people waited an hour just to get into the restaurant, and the interest is still there.
“I’m excited to do this and I kind of feel like we kind of owe it to the community. I mean, the last three years I’ve gone around town just shopping around Meijer and people have just come up to me asking ‘What are you doing next? I miss the chili dog,’” Koukios said.
Koukios says his family brought the original chili dog to Grand Rapids. His great uncle started Grand Rapids’ iconic former Red Lion. Koukios’ father then started his own venture, the Red Hot Inn, in 1984.
Koukios says he and his family put their restaurant’s return on the backburner when the COVID-19 pandemic led to new challenges for the hospitality industry, including staffing shortages. This spring, they started focusing on a food truck.
“My sons and I have been talking and they didn’t want the Red Hot name to die,” Koukios said, adding he still has “some gas left in the tank.”
Red Hot GR food truck will have new look and new logos, but you may see some familiar faces next to it.
Koukios says some former restaurant staff are “ready to hop on board” to help when the food truck is up and running.
“They all miss each other. We’ve all kept in touch over the last three years so we’re still a big family,” he said.
And Koukios isn’t ruling out another run at a traditional restaurant.
“It may lead to a brick-and-mortar store in the future, depending on how this goes, too. We’re not saying no to anything. This is a way of getting our feet wet a bit and seeing where this takes us,” he said.