Grand Rapids is enjoying an increasingly intriguing culinary scene that sets the table for delicious meetings.
Cooking and cocktail classes, tastings and offsite events at the homes of local booze and beer purveyors, and private dining at restaurants with impressive event spaces are among the opportunities awaiting hungry and thirsty groups.
Here’s a rundown of our favorite group culinary experiences in Grand Rapids.
Promoted as a “delicious destination,” Grand Rapids Downtown Market is a one-stop shop for groups where they’ll find 20-plus culinary vendors, two restaurants, cooking classes, private event venues and more.
The events team coordinates nearly 200 corporate meetings and events annually, including teambuilding activities and interactive cooking classes in the onsite Teaching Kitchen, according to Katie Clark, Grand Rapids Downtown Market’s beverage and events manager.
Photo: Grand Rapids Downtown Market. Credit: Grand Rapids Downtown Market
“Our chefs take guests through a full menu, a dessert medley or some specially themed cocktails, and then let the group enjoy the results of their hard work,” Clark said.
Grand Rapids Downtown Market also has several standout event spaces, including the popular modern banquet room, and the greenhouse, which is a unique setting for a lunch meeting or cocktail reception.
“Inside the greenhouse, lush plants surround guests, along with natural light during the day and city views at night,” Clark said.
The banquet room, which boasts hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing downtown views, seats up to 180 people at round tables.
“For those who want to add an outdoor element to their event in the banquet space or greenhouse, we have two outdoor terrace options overlooking the city,” Clark said.
Planners can work with in-house event catering to serve groups everything from a salad bar, charcuterie or full-service meal to fun options including taco or sushi bars.
“We also offer full bar service and can customize our traditional bar with anything from a custom beverage for your event to a special selection of craft beer, local wine or spirits,” Clark said.
The Local Epicurean, a pasta manufacturing company that sells more than 134 handmade pastas, sauces, cheeses, chocolates and wines, offers over 40 hands-on cooking classes and teambuilding classes for up to 48 people.
Problem solving, creativity and managing stress are all encouraged during team-bonding activities, including tiramisu and pesto challenges.
During the popular “All the News” pasta event, attendees create headlines based on what the group would like to achieve when they’re back at work.
“We can easily customize each experience to meet a group’s specific needs, goals and budget,” said Owner Ryan Raredon.
[Related: AC Hotel Debuts in Downtown Grand Rapids]
The Local Epicurean also offers offsite classes at any location in Grand Rapids and has a catering license for food and full bar featuring local beer, wines and Michigan-made liquor.
“Our menus are as varied as our classes,” Raredon added. “And many of the classes include a full meal either prepared by Local Epicurean or, in some cases, made by the class attendees.”
At Long Road Distillers, a purveyor of handcrafted spirits that are all made onsite, the cocktails are curated to match the spirits.
“Our most popular cocktail for events is our Polish Falcon, made with vodka, house-made ginger beer and fresh lime juice,” said Jenney Grant, operations and education manager for Long Road Distillers.
Photo: Group cheers at Haute, New Hotel Mertens. Credit: New Hotel Mertens.
The Rickhouse event space at Long Road Distillers overlooks the distilling operations and accommodates up to 150 people.
Event add-ons include guided tastings and cocktail classes led by a member of the beverage team.
“We can work with a group to create cocktails they are interested in learning about,” Grant said. She added Long Road approaches food the same way they approach crafting spirits and creating cocktails.
“We utilize farm fresh ingredients and seasonal flavors to create dishes that will please all dietary needs and tastes,” she said.
New Hotel Mertens is a Grand Rapids dining hotspot that includes a brasserie, bakery and rooftop lounge. The venue’s event portfolio includes main floor meeting space and breakout rooms, which could be booked in conjunction with a reception or meal function.
Anthony Tangorra, managing member of Mertens Hospitality, said that oftentimes when planners look into booking a rooftop soiree, the event expands to include an afternoon of meetings that “builds up to the highlight of the day—a rooftop happy hour and/or meal with a view of the Grand Rapids skyline and sunset.”
Photo: Group cheers at Haute, New Hotel Mertens. Credit: New Hotel Mertens
The rooftop space offers 270-degree views of Grand Rapids in a higher-end modern French setting for up to 50 people seated, Tangorra added. It also has an adjacent indoor area that works well for action stations and other setups. And in case of inclement weather, beautiful private space on the main floor acts as a backup.
Interactive add-on activities that focus on NHM’s history, which dates back to the early 1900s, can be arranged for groups. A cocktail class is an engaging option.
“Groups could learn how to build the Grand Rapids Fizz or Mertens Hotel Fizz, cocktails from the original 1939 New Hotel Mertens cocktail list that the current NHM team recovered from the Grand Rapids Public Library,” Tangorra said.
New Holland Brewing welcomes several corporate events every week, including everything from small team lunches to large multi-day conferences spread out among the venue’s six event spaces, according to Caitlin Gallagher, catering and private event sales strategist for New Holland Brewing Co.
The spaces are impressive, including the Barrel Stave Loft for large events of 200 seated and 250 standing, and the Zeppelin Cocktail Lounge, which overlooks the distillery and comfortably accommodates 75 people for a fun happy hour.
“We are one of the only event venues in Grand Rapids to offer the option for food and beer tasting stations for private events,” Gallagher said. “These stations allow guests to graze and mingle about the event space, sampling our diverse menu selections and carefully curated beer pairings at each station.”
Among the other dining setups to choose from are breakfast and dinner buffets, assorted sandwiches, salads and wood-fired pizzas for lunchtime events, and heavy appetizers for evening receptions.
Private brewery and distillery tours along with group tastings can also be arranged to elevate events.
Wheelhouse Kitchen & Cocktails is a popular downtown restaurant that serves contemporary global dishes that are largely prepared with seasonal ingredients from local suppliers.
Menu specialties include chorizo chili fries, pan-fried Michigan goat cheese, various salads, burgers and mushroom pierogi.
Groups can book private event space at the restaurant, including the porch, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and seats up to 50 people, and the dining room, which accommodates up to 100 people. Buyouts are also available.
“The great thing about Wheelhouse is we can make your experience completely customizable, based on what the client wants,” said Stephanie Caballero, the restaurant’s events coordinator. “We can design a party theme with appetizer stations and cocktail tables, creating mingle room for larger groups.”
As the name of the restaurant suggests, cocktails are a focal point on the menu here. Refreshing options include the Wheelhouse Mule, Prickly Pear Collins and the Basil Chiller Martini.
“Cocktail demonstrations could be arranged for groups,” Caballero said. “And we have also created custom drinks for group events.”
Grand Rapids Chef Luke VerHulst Talks About the City’s Booming Culinary Scene
Luke VerHulst | Executive Chef
Reserve Wine & Food | Grand Rapids, Michigan
How would you define the current culinary scene in Grand Rapids?
Booming! It seems more and more people are moving here every year, and with that comes more adventurous diners. New focused restaurant concepts are popping up all over the city. It is an exciting time to be here. I feel like we are finally starting to catch up to larger markets as far as diversity goes. We still definitely have a lot of room to grow, but I am happy to see the progress!
Photo: Luke Verhulst, Executive Chef. Courtesy of Luke VerHulst.
What unique culinary experiences do you recommend for groups meeting in Grand Rapids?
The Bridge Street Corridor has seen tremendous growth in the last few years. Large spaces like New Holland Brewing's Knickerbocker, Harmony Hall and the Sovengard (specifically their biergarten) offer plenty of real estate for large corporate gatherings. Of course, you can always start nearby at centrally located Reserve Wine & Food for some bubbles, cheese and charcuterie!
Please share a little about the group experience at Reserve Wine & Food?
We have several private spaces for hosting group gatherings, including the Champagne Room & Lounge, the Loft & Terrace, and the entire restaurant. Tisha Scheifele, our private events coordinator, and her team will make your private dining event an unforgettable experience. We offer customized event menus for groups that feature quality, sustainable products. Our menus are highly seasonal and offer the best produce we can get our hands on.
What are a few dishes you’d recommend for groups to share at your restaurant?
Cheese and charcuterie is an obvious choice here as it lends itself equally well to large group formats as it does an intimate gathering. Our pork fat fries are always a favorite. We also have a full list of hors d'oeuvres to satisfy any group.
The Latest Event Venue Updates and Openings in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The 664-room Amway Grand Plaza, which has more than 47,000 square feet of meeting space, is undergoing a $40 million exterior renovation that’s scheduled for completion in April 2021. The entire glass exterior will be replaced, and the new insulated glass is expected to bring 10 to 15% energy savings for the hotel.
Hyatt Place Grand Rapids/Downtown opened in April with 160 guest rooms and 1,550 square feet of meeting space.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown opened in April. The property has 250 guest rooms and five meeting/event rooms, including a banquet facility.
The AC Hotel Grand Rapids Downtown opened in June with 130 guest rooms and one meeting room.
The High Five opened downtown earlier this year. The event venue accommodates up to 300 people for receptions and conferences.
Developers recently proposed a 24-story, 400-room hotel for DeVos Place convention center. This multimillion-dollar hotel would provide 40,000 square feet of meeting space including a 20,000-square-foot ballroom.
Experience Grand Rapids | 616.258.7388
Read next: Urban Teambuilding Adventures Add Excitement to Michigan Events