GRAND RAPIDS — Restaurant operator Essence Restaurant Group LLC, which owns The Green Well, Bistro Bella Vita and Grove in Grand Rapids, is now taking over Lucy’s, a breakfast, brunch and coffee bar concept in the Creston neighborhood.
James Berg, CEO and partner at Essence Restaurant Group, told MiBiz the company wants to get to know the Lucy’s team over the next 90 days before making any firm decisions about next steps. Essence will maintain the existing Lucy’s name, staffing, hours of operation and menu in the interim.
“They’ve just come out of COVID-19 and it’s been a difficult situation for them,” Berg said. “I don’t know what the long-term goal is yet until we get in there and can work with them.”
Eventually, Essence Restaurant Group wants to extend the hours at Lucy’s to serve dinner, as well as move its existing baking operation from Bistro Bella Vita to the Creston location, which includes a production bakery. Moving the baking operations from Bistro Bella Vita will free up much-needed space at the downtown restaurant, Berg said.
Essence planned to pursue acquisition opportunities for existing restaurants in 2023, so the opportunity at Lucy’s came at the right time, Berg added.
“One of our growth goals is to be in urban neighborhoods in and around downtown — to be in more of that neighborhood community,” Berg said. “I think that’s where we work best, and we’ve still got close connections to downtown.”
The acquisition resulted from Grand Rapids-based CWD Real Estate Investment LLC buying the 10,000-square-foot building at 1747 Plainfield Ave. NE from the VanderKooy family. The $1.35 million property sale closed on Dec. 27, according to property records.
The building was originally constructed for Daane’s Market in 1959, which was co-founded by David Daane and his brother-in-law, Simon VanderKooy. The market was then turned into D’Amico’s Food Mart in 1978 until it closed in 2011.
The building sat vacant until 2016 when Simon VanderKooy’s children and the owners of the property — Brian VanderKooy, Jan VanderKooy and Sue Despre — renovated the space into two restaurants: Brighton Graye’s Bistro and Little Lucy’s Cafe. The Brighton’s concept was later discontinued and the whole space became Lucy’s cafe.
All 30 employees at Lucy’s will have an opportunity to continue their employment under the new ownership, VanderKooy said.
“The thing that the Lucy’s team has done really well is build trust with the Creston neighborhood,” Berg said. “We don’t want any culture shock. We’ve been getting to know them and building that trust with the team.”
The deal came together after the VanderKooy family reached out to CWD to gauge the firm’s interest in the property, said Sam Cummings, managing partner at CWD Real Estate Investment, which in turn tapped Essence to run the operations of the “neighborhood institution.”
“CWD and Essence Restaurant Group have partnered for more than 15 years on Cherry Street so this is truly a natural extension of the pioneering work we have done together in other neighborhoods in the city,” said Cummings, who lives in the Creston neighborhood and also serves on the board of directors for Saugatuck Brewing Co., which acquired the nearby Creston Brewery in April 2021.
For the VanderKooy family, the sale to CWD will allow them to focus on their real estate business.
“My brother Brian and I have been operating Lucy’s for more than five years in addition to our real estate business, Vander Kooy Management, so we are looking to concentrate our time on what we do best,” Jan VanderKooy said in a statement. “We have confidence that Sam Cummings and CWD will maintain the building as a neighborhood asset and James Berg will take Lucy’s Cafe to the next level.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from Essence Restaurant Group CEO James Berg.