When you think of Holland, chances are “foodie destination” does not come to mind. While Holland has always had its share of independent restaurants, they all tend to stick to the familiar American menu with a brewpub or family diner vibe, but a few recent restaurant openings are starting to change the palate and the ambiance of the Holland restaurant scene.
One man leading that transformation is restaurateur Lucas Grill. Grill opened his first restaurant, Public, in the neighboring community of Zeeland in 2012, followed by Seventy-Six in Holland in 2017. Then at the end of 2019, he added restaurant Poquito and cocktail lounge Obstacle 1 to his Holland restaurant portfolio.
With all four of his offerings, Grill said he is going for a big city vibe and a unique menu that cannot be found within 50 miles of his establishments.
Grill said when opening Public in 2012, he included items like avocado rolls and angels on horseback (a take on the traditional English dish, Devils on Horseback, which are bacon wrapped dates). “I looked at every single menu within 50 miles and not one menu had a date on it, and I put them on the menu as one of our signature dishes Angels on Horseback … long story short, you see dates everywhere now,” he said.
With Poquito and Obstacle 1, Grill wants to push Holland even further out of its comfort zone. He explained Poquito is a tapas-style restaurant with a menu dedicated to Spanish-speaking countries. He noted diners will find everything from tacos to paella to chimichurri and ceviche on the menu.
“I lived in Spain for a period of time. I love Spanish food. I love what it’s about,” Grill said. “My first restaurant I worked in in Chicago was (the now closed) National 27, it was a Latin restaurant.”
Next door to Poquito, Grill created Obstacle 1, an upscale cocktail lounge, the likes of which would more likely be found in a city like New York or Chicago rather than downtown Holland.
“One of the things I loved about big cities is high-end cocktail boutiques,” he said, calling The Aviary in Chicago and Death & Co. in New York two of his favorites. So, Grill set out to create that experience in West Michigan.
“It is a transformative atmosphere. I spent a tremendous amount of money on the interior design because I want people to walk in and say, ‘Holy cow, this place is spectacular.’ It is so swanky and moody and dark and all the right lighting in the right spots. It has this masculine almost library, cigar-esque room to it.”
Grill said these newest offerings were created with the millennial generation in mind. He noted while great food and great service remain steadfast indicators of a terrific restaurant, a great experience is equally important to younger generations of diners, many of whom are eager to post their night out on social media.
“I’m a millennial, if I’m going to make this an experience, which is what millennials are looking for, how can I make this not just a cocktail?” he asked.
Grill said to accomplish this, at Obstacle 1, patrons will find a multisensory experience. “The cocktails have a fire element, where it’s visual, or a smoked element, where you can smell it, or multiple textures or temperatures in the cocktail where you can taste it, or you can see something being done. We want to have enough cocktails on the menu that have a showmanship-type ‘wow’ factor to them. Where when you are getting your drinks, you are watching a show in front of you,” he said, noting Poquito also has a showmanship quality to it thanks to its tapas style.
And with Hope College nearby, he knows there is a young crowd eager for this type of offering in Holland.
But is the greater Holland community ready for a big city vibe? Grill said he sees it as an “if you build it, they will come” scenario.
“I do think Holland is changing. Since I moved here in 2012, Holland and Zeeland have grown tremendously. It’s not the Holland it was eight years ago. I feel like they’re really starting to get more worldly, more cultured and see that there’s such a broad, diverse world out there and it is fun to see these different restaurants and businesses and things the town and city are doing, festivals and stuff, that make what I think is one of America’s best small towns even better. Holland really is a special place … it’s got so much to offer, and more and more people are finding that out every year.”
Grill said he is eager to see other restaurants open that are interested in trying new things and bringing new food experiences to Holland — and he is hoping to add a couple more restaurants to his portfolio in the coming years as well. And with the Holland farmers market and the Summer Street Performers series, Grill said Holland is on its way to becoming a dining destination worth making a road trip for.
For a laidback vibe try Taco+Bar
Butch TerHaar is a longtime restaurateur in Holland, having owned and operated Butch’s Dry Dock since 1995. In September 2020, he braved the pandemic and opened Taco + Bar in the community.
“Taco + Bar is a playful contrast to Butch’s Dry Dock. Taco + Bar is fun, high energy and definitely casual,” TerHaar said. “Its size lends to a certain intimacy and energy, and its outdoor patio connects it to the street and the community. Its menu features tacos inspired by traditional flavors and mainly agave-based spirits and cocktails like margaritas and palomas.”
TerHaar also operates Ondergrond Speakeasy out of the same space as Taco + Bar. The bar offers wine and craft cocktails.
For those looking for a deeper experience, TerHaar offers Culinary Wine Tours. “We started offering Culinary Wine Tours in 2006, which we have grown to seven different trips with four tours that are tentatively planned for this year,” he said. “Our current tour locations are Burgundy, Porto and The Douro Valley, Tuscany, Catalonia, Piedmont, Provence and Bordeaux.”
Of the tours, he said, “It really comes down to bringing people something they can’t get someplace else. It’s about the full experience and bringing the wines back from the family-owned vineyards in France and Italy and telling their stories to our customers.”
This story can be found in the September/October 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.