A new specialty burger spot has now opened on the Westside that will likely set tastebuds ablaze.
Nonla Burger is opening its fourth location — and first in Grand Rapids — at 449 Bridge St. NW, becoming a new key cog in the incredibly vibrant Bridge Street corridor.
The new Grand Rapids outpost is a relative long time coming for owners Kyle and Natashia Monk and Johnny and Kelly Nguyen. The Monks moved to Grand Rapids in 2019, falling quickly in love with the city – and more so every day, Natashia said.
“We always knew we’d have a Nonla Burger here, it’s something we’ve always wanted,” she said. “We were looking for the right space, we live on the westside and have seen how quickly that development is happening. When we found the location on Bridge Street, we jumped at the opportunity. “We feel the energy, fall in love with the city more and more and we’re excited to be part of it.”
The roots of Nonla Burger go back to Kyle and Johnny’s childhood in Southern California, always wanting to go into business together. Fast forward to adulthood and Johnny’s career as a chef took him to Michelin Star restaurants in San Francisco to Hawaii and, eventually, to West Michigan to start a family near Kelly’s childhood home. In Michigan, the Nguyens opened up Mattawan’s Nonla Vietnamese in 2015, which was recently converted into the third Nonla Burger.
The first Nonla Burger started in 2017, after Kyle visited West Michigan and saw the momentum of Johnny’s culinary endeavor and decided there was opportunity in the region’s food industry.
“They wanted to bring a SoCal vibe and have a Vietnamese twist to a burger,” Natashia said. “They started to put the idea to do this together, Kyle came home to me and I was ready to jump at it.”
The menu is simple, with the standard offering being NB #1, or a double cheese burger meal. There’s also several chicken sandwiches, fries and a salad. The sandwiches can be made “Nonla Way,” which adds jalapenos, grilled onions, cilantro and cucumber, evoking the Vietnamese Banh mi sandwich. Each day, there is also a shake of the day, hand stirred to order.
“We pride ourselves on not having a ton of options but doing them really well,” Natashia said.
Photos of the burgers suggest influence from the West Coast In-and-Out Burger chain, and while Natashia said the love of the burger joint is instilled in their California upbringing, she insists there is a distinct difference.
The restaurants south of Grand Rapids are generally smaller and are a dine and move on experience. The Bridge Street location will be different and more in line with the multitude of gathering spots in the west side entertainment district.
For starters, this location will have a liquor license. It’s drinks menu won’t be as extensive as many of the other bars and restaurants in the vicinity, but Natashia said it is easy to see the restaurant being overlooked without one. Like the food menu, the drinks menu will be smaller with a few specialty cocktails and a house wine and
a beer or two on draft. There could be a diner like take on boozy milkshakes, orange Juliuses and root beer floats.
There is also the potential for table games, to help entice diners to stay and hang out, something the other three locations do not have the ability to offer.
“We want customers to hangout and enjoy the experience,” Natashia said. “Our current locations are grab and go and they’re great business, we see a great success in that. But in Grand Rapids, we’ll be more of an experience.”
The fairly quick ramp up to four restaurants has mostly been to reach the areas the two couples live. There could be a second, east side Grand Rapids location in the sights, but beyond that is a tough sell for expansion.
“We’re not trying to be the next McDonald’s,” she said. “We’re family-friend business, we are in the stores everyday. We love that and we want to run them well.”