Published in Food/Agribusiness
The pandemic caused San Chez, a longtime eatery in downtown Grand Rapids, to put plans on hold to open seafood boil concept Beacon in the same building as its legacy restaurant. The building also suffered some damage from the unrest over police brutality in late May. The pandemic caused San Chez, a longtime eatery in downtown Grand Rapids, to put plans on hold to open seafood boil concept Beacon in the same building as its legacy restaurant. The building also suffered some damage from the unrest over police brutality in late May. PHOTOS: ANDY BALASKOVITZ

San Chez bistro rethinks shared plates, new project delayed

BY Sunday, June 07, 2020 05:25pm

Restaurants across Michigan are slowly reengaging under occupancy limits and heightened measures to protect workers and patrons’ safety. 

Under those measures, a menu built around tapas, or small plates meant to be shared with the table, would be naturally difficult to accommodate during COVID-19.

That’s why Cindy Schneider, the owner of San Chez: A Tapas Bistro and Roam by San Chez in Grand Rapids, is tweaking the concept to meet customers’ needs in the coming months.

“We’re tapas, and we share — that’s difficult for us,” Schneider said. In addition to offering additional dining ware for patrons, “we’re taking different approaches to entrees.”

That includes adding “entradas,” or a variety of tapas on one plate for an individual that the Spanish-inspired San Chez first offered on its original menu in the early 1990s. Schneider also said customers will be asked if they plan to share plates or are eating individually.

“We’d always be like, ‘Nope, you’ve got to share.’ We’re going to be sensitive to people and their needs,” she said.

Schneider spoke with MiBiz on June 1, just minutes before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer formally announced restaurants and bars across the state could reopen. Roam, which bills itself as “global street food,” and San Chez have been open for takeout with limited menus. 

She was excitedly texting with managers about reopening plans, but the outlook isn’t entirely optimistic. To start, takeout in downtown Grand Rapids while much of the business activity is shutoff is like “finding a needle in a haystack — pretty rough,” Schneider said.

Aside from ArtPrize, which is still scheduled in late September, events at the Van Andel Arena, concert venues and convention sites have been canceled this summer.

“We know we have to rely on Grand Rapidians to come into our restaurants and be there for us,” as opposed to large numbers of visitors, Schneider said. “We really rely on events.”

On top of the uncertainty, the side of the San Chez building along Fulton Street was damaged by a fire during the May 30 protests. The rest of the building was unharmed, which was welcome news for Schneider, who is planning a third restaurant on the same block as San Chez.

With Beacon, a seafood boil concept, “everything stopped” as the pandemic shut down dine-in restaurants in March. Schneider said the project is about 65 percent complete with the electric, plumbing and walls installed and painting done. Financing has also been a challenge as federal loans were targeted at keeping existing businesses running, she said.

“We’re just waiting to get our restaurants up and running,” Schneider said. “From there, we’re going to get focused back on Beacon going again.”

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