HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A culinary cornerstone just steps away from Holland State Park is no more. In Ottawa Beach Inn’s place now stands Playa Tacos + Tequila, which opened to the public this week.
“It’s changed a 100% since I started as a manager here and I love the transformation that it’s taken. It definitely took us a minute to get here, but I’m very, very happy with the product that came out of it,” Playa general manager Rachael Hall said.
Construction crews spent about seven months transforming OBI, which was a community mainstay for more than 35 years. Gone are the drop ceiling tiles, carpeting, wood paneling and even the the front wall of the restaurant at 2155 Ottawa Beach Road.
“We pretty much blew out the whole front of the building and we added all the different overhead doors so that we could open it up and have one big cohesive, bright, airy space,” said Lisa Wylie, corporate designer and chief marketing officer for River & Odi Hospitality Group, which owns Playa. “We wanted to embrace the beach and just the whole light and freshness of it, which really tied well into our menu.”
TIME FOR TRANSFORMATION
Restaurant owner Eric Chaitin bought OBI from the Overway family about eight years ago with plans to keep the restaurant’s traditions alive. He said OBI “was a fantastic spot that was beloved by the neighbors and campers alike,” but his growing company and the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic meant it was time for change.
“After COVID, we wanted a lot more open air and we also wanted a concept that we could feel proud of,” Chaitin said.
The new, larger outdoor patio can accommodate 38 tables outside, more than double the 14 new tables inside the restaurant. A portrait of Frida Kahlo created by Douglas, Michigan-based artist Ruth Crowe hangs above the restaurant’s new fireplace. The shelves above and behind Playa’s expanded bar feature more than 200 tequilas and Mezcals in addition to other spirits, managers say.
“Last year I spent the summer here just trying to figure out what to do with the space. I knew I wanted it to be this, but we wanted to kind of really know that Ottawa Beach (Inn) was kind of at its end. It had a long run, but people change, things change and then our company was changing. And this is more of the idea of what our company does,” said Michael Santo, executive chef for River & Odi Hospitality Group.
MAKING THE MENU
Mangers found inspiration for Playa’s minimalist interior and modern Mexican cuisine by visiting taquerias in Chicago all the way to Arizona. The red, white and blue artisan masa that Playa’s culinary team mixes and makes into fresh tortillas comes from Mexico.
“When you bite into it, you can actually taste the tortilla and that’s the one thing you don’t get at most taco places. You taste the ingredients and everything they put on it but you don’t taste the tortilla. And that’s what I wanted to start with,” Santo said.
Playa’s menu features nine tacos, taco bowls and taco salads as well as dips and appetizers. Managers say tacos seemed like a good choice because you can easily adjust them to what ingredients you can obtain through the challenging supply chain, you can put them together quickly and they travel well for takeout orders.
“Tacos are definitely hot right now, but nobody does tacos like how we do our tacos. Our tacos are very fresh, authentic and honestly, the flavor that you get, you can’t find anywhere else in town,” Hall said.
But Santo said he first started shaping Playa’s menu by focusing on the restaurant’s craft cocktails.
Hall says they spent weeks behind the bar, refining recipes for cocktails “people are going to be blown away by.” The final drink menu includes sangria, margaritas, a rose Collins, Tijuana spa water and tropical pina colada.
“The balance and the fresh juices and infusing some of the sweet and salty and spicy flavors, it’s really pretty remarkable,” Chaitlin said.
Playa will host live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wylie said the restaurant’s outdoor patio will also be activated during the winter with features and activities like fire pits, curling and tasting events.
Managers say they’ll focus on their fast casual dining service to start but plan to look into delivery and carryout options in the future.
“It’s been a wild ride. Honestly, with COVID and everything, it really threw us for a loop. But I think having the team that I do made it so it was easier to get through all of this,” Hall said. “We’ve all just worked together through all of the speed bumps that we’ve hit.. and honestly, I’m very happy with how we persevered through tough times.”
“We’ll just kind of roll with the punches. And the restaurants that are surviving are rolling with the punches. Things change and you just adapt your menu to what you can get and still offer a product that people want,” Santo said.
Playa’s starting business hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. For updates, visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.