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Friday, 31 July 2015 11:19

Taqueria plans expansion in Grand Rapids’ growing East Hills neighborhood

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Donkey Taqueria Donkey Taqueria PHOTO: Nick Manes

GRAND RAPIDS — With a steadily growing business in an increasingly revitalized neighborhood, the owner of a popular East Hills restaurant sees an opportunity to grow without increasing the physical footprint of his building.

Paul Lee, owner of Donkey Taqueria at 665 Wealthy St. SE, plans to install a 1950s-style food delivery truck outside of the restaurant that will serve as a spot for customers to order to-go food — a growing part of the business — as well as potentially allow for customers dining in to order appetizers and drinks during times when there’s a waiting list for seating in the main restaurant.

“Space is a premium for us,” Lee said of the 1,200-square-foot Mexican-style restaurant he opened in December 2013. Sales at Donkey are up about 15 percent since the same time last year, although much of that has to do with the taqueria increasing its catering and to-go business, he added.

Lee also owns a parcel next door to Donkey that he acquired to use as a farm to grow food for his restaurants, including The Winchester, a gastropub at 648 Wealthy St. SE.

While the proposed truck will not have any kitchen equipment on board — all food ordered at the truck will be made in Donkey’s kitchen — Lee still plans to ask the Grand Rapids Planning Commission for a special land use permit, which is required of all food truck operators under the law the city passed in 2012.

Aside from the two restaurants, Lee also operates What The Truck, a food truck that operates occasionally at events around the city. Donkey’s on-site truck could also travel for catering events, he added.

Lee said his companies had been taking a wait-and-see approach with food trucks to see how they played out under the city’s regulatory scheme.

“We haven’t seen much traction due to over-regulation and seasonality,” he said.

In his request before the planning commission on Aug. 13, Lee will also ask permission to have live music at Donkey’s outdoor patio three or four times per year.

Both Donkey and The Winchester play a role in the burgeoning food and entertainment scene in the East Hills neighborhood. Over the last decade, developers have launched more than a dozen restaurants, bars and coffee shops combined along the Wealthy Street and Cherry Street corridors. Recently, they’ve started investing in a variety of housing options there as well.

And there’s more growth coming.

For example, late-night hot dog and hamburger restaurant Jonny B’z LLC is currently renovating a larger building just down and across the street from its existing location at 638 Wealthy St.

Commercial real estate brokers say the neighborhood could support even more development opportunities.

Mark Ansara, an associate with the Grand Rapids office of Colliers International, points to the vacant building next door to The Winchester at 650 Wealthy St. as one such opportunity. The former law office priced at $284,000 offers more mixed-use potential in the neighborhood.

While several potential investors have looked at the property, a buyer would need to tear down the existing building and figure out how to include parking at the site, Ansara said.

Lee agreed, noting he has considered the property as he looked to increase his holdings on the block, but the particulars of that site make a new construction project cost-prohibitive.

“If they approached us one day (with a lower price), I would find a way to make that happen,” Lee said. “It’s great to see more investment in the neighborhood.”

Read 6959 times Last modified on Sunday, 09 August 2015 09:41

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