Editor’s note: This is Part 7 of a 10-part series on the top 10 Grand Rapids restaurants for 2021. To see a list of all of the restaurants, click here.
The Mitten Brewing Co. is known for its great pizza and fun atmosphere, and since the pandemic took hold, it’s become known for its loyalty to its employees, too.
Masking became a controversy early in the pandemic and restaurants took the brunt of people’s discontent.
“Our team members found themselves on the receiving end of many politically-charged unpleasantries, which awoke the ‘Papa Bear’ instincts in my business partner Max and I,” said Chris Andrus, co-owner of The Mitten with Max Trierweiler. “We ‘fired’ many customers for poor behavior, and I have no regrets about any of them. We’d rather err on the side of safety and sticking up for our team any day of the week.”
The Mitten, 527 Leonard St. NW, also joined forces with other restaurants in Grand Rapids to create the MI Restaurant Promise, a commitment to follow the state’s restaurant guidelines. “It stemmed from a desire to showcase our safety protocols, build confidence and transparency, and to put some distance in between the good actors and the bad actors in the hospitality world. At the end of the day, building back that confidence is something only we can do, and I believe the Promise has been instrumental in the process,” Andrus said.
In addition to its commitment to enforcing masks and other safety protocols, The Mitten was forced to change its operations to accommodate carryout-only service.
“Our single phone line proved to be a huge liability,” Andrus explained. “The telephone has always been a fairly unimportant part of our business, but when all ordering suddenly had to be done through the phone system, we realized how inadequate our setup was. We added lines, but quickly saw that online ordering was the only way forward. So, we’ve had to make some serious technological upgrades to a business that was very ‘old school’ in the years prior.”
The Mitten also utilized previously unused outdoor space. Andrus said he believes carryout service and outdoor dining changes will remain for his restaurant and others even after the pandemic.
“Along with leaner workforces across the board, I believe we will emerge with a bigger focus on the back-of-house, since table service likely won’t play as big of a role in dining as it has in the past. Also, there will be a shift in what constitutes ‘ideal’ restaurant real estate. If a space doesn’t have outdoor areas or is too reliant on indoor dining density, it will no longer be a safe or wise bet.”
While The Mitten always has been known for its “warm and cozy atmosphere” and “packed taproom,” the past year has allowed the restaurant to build on its reputation as a committed community member and leader in the Grand Rapids restaurant scene.
This story can be found in the March 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here.