ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Community Restaurant in Zeeland is preparing to reopen after a fire destroyed it more than a year ago.
Around 11 p.m. on April 12, 2022, the restaurant on Main Avenue near Maple Street went up in flames. No one was inside the building at the time and no one was hurt.
The restaurant, which has served the Zeeland community for decades, was a total loss. It was a shock for owner Barry Elzinga, but even as he watched it burn down, he knew what he had to do.
“I was standing out in the street there watching the place burn and I had it in my head already then: ‘I’m bringing Community Restaurant back,'” he said.
Community Restaurant has a long history in Zeeland. It was first opened in the 1960s, Barry Elzinga and his wife, Darla Elzinga, told News 8. At the time, there were only about two or three restaurants in town.
The restaurant moved into the now-destroyed building around 1970, which had previously been a hardware store and a bowling alley, the couple explained. Barry Elzinga’s sister started working there around that same year and he followed suit in 1985.
Five years later, he met his wife when she came in to eat at Community Restaurant. The two were in their late teens at the time.
“We just passed our 30th anniversary,” he said. “I met her in this on this site, not this building, but right here.”
His cousin bought the spot in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and Barry Elzinga bought it from him, along with a business partner, in 2020.
“It’s been an interesting ride the last couple of years,” he said. “We finally made it through COVID and all the shutdowns, we were really getting going and then the whole building burned down.”
While he wanted to rebuild, his business partner decided to bow out.
The new space — which will likely open in about six to eight weeks — will be familiar to Community Restaurant customers, with a similar feel and the same main dining room layout. It even has the same square peep hole in back wall. The menu will also be mostly the same, with just a few things taken off and a few new items. Around 10 former employees are also planning on coming back, Barry Elzinga said.
There will be some changes as they worked to make the space more efficient for servers. Before, a lot of things where scattered throughout the building.
The lobby wall will feature photos from throughout the restaurant’s history, including the night of the fire.
“It’s part of this community’s history,” Barry Elzinga said. “I want people to know when they come in here, it’s been here a long time, it’s been through a lot and it’s still going to be here hopefully for a long time.”
The Elzingas said they are ready to tell people “welcome back to Community,” saying they wish they could hug everyone who walks in the door.
“Every time we’re here we see people looking in the windows, people driving through the parking lot, trying to check it out,” Darla Elzinga said. “When we talk to people, they can’t wait to be able to come back again.”
She said it’s that attitude that has kept them going.
“It was the support we were getting from the community, from our family and friends, that kept us going,” she said. “People wanted it back … (it) almost felt like we let them down, if we didn’t continue.”
“I could’ve easily walked away and take (the) insurance money and be done with it,” her husband added. “I’d feel bad the rest of my life, I think, that I didn’t try.”
The restaurant itself has become a community, the couple said. A group of eight to 10 guys came in almost every day, and people who grew up going there brought their own kids to the spot.
“It’s networked into the community. It’s been here seemingly for most people’s lives and it’s still here,” Barry Elzinga said. “And it’s coming back.”