ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A development in the works in Zeeland will bring more housing and the return of popular restaurant Public to downtown.
The city bought the property of 135 and 137 E. Main Ave. between Elm and Church streets in 2022, and accepted a proposal from Wooden Nickel, LLC, to redevelop it.
The project will tear down the one-story building on the property. A new three-story building will take its place, with a retail or restaurant space in the first floor and eight apartments on the second and third floors. It will connect with the buildings to the west, 131 and 133 East Main Avenue, allowing Moxy Dental to expand.
Public, a popular restaurant that opened in May 2012 and closed in 2021, will be returning to its original space at 131 East Main Ave.
A pedestrian passageway within the project will connect Main Avenue to the north public parking lot.
“It allows for a good flow of customers, it allows customers to be exposed to some of the other properties that they may not have planned to visit,” explained Abby deRoo, Zeeland’s city marketing director.
She said the passageway will be covered for protection from the elements and that it has room for a patio if a restaurant takes the commercial space.
The eight two-bedroom apartments will address a growing need for housing in downtown, especially for young professionals, deRoo said.
Moxy Dental and Airway, which has been in Zeeland for 12 years, will more than double the amount of square footage it currently has with the development, deRoo said.
“The new development will allow them to expand and then they’ll occupy the entire length of the back,” deRoo said, explaining that when all is said and done, Moxy will fill 60% of its current building and the building next door.
DeRoo said a groundbreaking date has not yet been set but construction is expected to take about 10 months. Organizers are hoping it will be completed in the summer of fall of 2024.
The value of the new development is “immeasurable,” deRoo said.
“All of those things will have a domino effect on the adjacent property owners, improving their value as well,” she said.
‘COVETED RESTAURANT BACK’
DeRoo said Zeeland is excited for Public’s return to its original space.
“Everybody’s so excited to see public restaurant come back. It was definitely a communitywide outpouring of emotion when they left. And I think everybody’s been waited on baited breath, hoping that they would return,” deRoo said. “It will feel so familiar, yet I’m sure improved. Lucas Grill has new tricks up his sleeve. But … the community’s excited to have that coveted restaurant back.”
The first time around was “a whirlwind,” said 1983 Restaurants proprietor Lucas Grill, as it opened to a lot of excitement.
“When I opened Public the first time, I was invited to the Zeeland East vs. Zeeland West football game and they gave me the microphone at halftime to go on the 50-yard line and introduce Zeeland’s first full-service restaurant to the community,” Grill recalled.
Grill’s love for food and hospitality came from his mom, aunts and grandmothers. The second youngest of 15 cousins, he often spent time in the kitchen helping out.
“I grew up around food and these wonderful women in my life. Both my grandmothers and my mom are amazing cooks and I just grew up in the kitchen with food and I loved it and I loved the hospitality behind it,” Grill said.
After going to the Culinary Institute of America in New York and studying hospitality business at Michigan State University, Grill gained experience working for skilled restaurant owners in Chicago and then back in Michigan.
Eventually, he sold his house, his car and cashed in his 401(k) to open Public.
“I went all in,” he said.
After the success of Public, he started his company, 1983 Restaurants, and opened three other concepts in the Holland and Zeeland area: Seventy Six, Poquito and Obstacle No. 1. But Public has always been his ‘baby,’ Grill said.
When it reopens, it will have the same spirit as before — but with some tweaks and improvements. Grill said he’s excited to reopen it with the knowledge he has gained over the last 10 years.
“When you walk in, it’s going to look like Public still. It’s going to feel like Public: the menu, the dishes, the food items, everything’s going to be Public. But then I think people are going to say, ‘OK, but it’s better,'” he said.
“I really do think it’s going to be Public 2.0,” he later added.
Grill is working with the same interior designer as before. He said the design will have warmer, brighter colors with a “coastal South Carolina vibe.”
Some menu items, like the signature salad, will remain the same, but others will be getting a face-lift. ‘Angels on Horseback’ was one of Public’s best-selling appetizers: an almond wrapped with date, wrapped in bacon, with house-made barbecue sauce and roasted in the oven. On the new menu, the barbecue sauce has been updated to offer more depth of flavor, while the almond has been swapped with a new ingredient, Grill said.
“I’m not going to say yet, but it’s going to provide a crunch separate and different from the nut,” Grill said. “People who had nut allergies couldn’t have the dish. So I wanted to create something that was a bit more friendly for everyone, including people with allergies.”
Grill said he wants the modernized menu to feel lighter.
Like before, the kitchen will have no freezers and everything will be homemade, Grill said.
“That’s one of the things I think people loved about us is that it doesn’t matter if it’s desserts, salad dressings, you name it, we make it all,” he said.
Grill credits the success of Public to the community and he is excited to bring it back with the new development. He said the city has been incredible to work with and several community members and regulars have reached out to congratulate him on the upcoming reopening.
“The reason we were so successful is because of the unbelievable support from the community,” he said. “To get to come back is really special.”
Grill said he is aiming to open for the Zeeland community in the spring of 2024, but “if we can open sooner, we will.”
“I’ve said this from day one. There is something in the water in Zealand, Michigan. It is not like any other city. They have so much school spirit, so much team spirit, so much city spirit,” Grill said. “There’s a pride that its citizens have in their little town, and you don’t see that everywhere.”