Michael Goessman loves the ingredients he can find in West Michigan.
Sometimes, he’ll simply salt the meat he’s been provided from area suppliers, cooking it to temperature and watching a smile cross a customer’s face. People are blown away, wondering what he’s done to make it taste so good.
“Respect a beautiful product,” Goessman said.
Goessman and his wife, Summer, opened Café Mamo, 1601 Plainfield Ave. NE, last summer, and it is the perfect representation of what they want. Summer is a sommelier by trade who has worked in restaurants in New York City and Nashville, as has Goessman.
Goessman grew up in Montana, eating his mom’s food. He didn’t graduate high school, spent some time at a culinary school but ended up at Second Street Bistro in Livingston, Montana. That is where he said his whole philosophy about cooking was honed. It was in Montana where he met Summer, a West Michigan native.
They made their way to New York City, where she worked at a restaurant in Greenwich Village and he worked in trendy “hipster, new wave” restaurants in Brooklyn.
“It was appealing at the time. It was the golden age of tasting menus, where everyone had 12 seats and every plate had at least one ingredient no one had heard of,” he said. “It crashed and burned while I was there. People saying, ‘When I go out to dinner, I want to eat what I want to eat.’
“So, I’m there around this New York crazy style of food, but I just want to eat my mom’s food. I’ve used these wild techniques, weird textures and ingredients. But ultimately, this is what makes the people I’m with happy when I cook, it’s what I’d prefer to sell to people.”
They left New York and spent some time in Nashville, where they became engaged. They moved to West Michigan to be closer to Summer’s hometown of Reed City, but not too close.
“It’s a good spot,” Goessman said. “We’ve moved around the country, kind of envisioning where would I like to live. Grand Rapids isn’t culturally void like a lot of places. There’s a lot going on. It’s got a great food scene. There’s wine being made in Michigan that’s interesting, there’s good beer. And it’s affordable.”
The restaurant itself is small, with an open kitchen. They designed it that way, in hopes each employee can see every customer. It’s an amalgamation of their favorite places where they would eat in New York City on their days off.
“We’re very proud of the space we made and so we’re proud to take care of it,” he said.
They keep the menu small, but it’s ever-changing. They rely on suppliers from across West Michigan to keep those incredible ingredients flowing. They treat each ingredient with respect, using a lot of classic French preparation, but the menu items are often American classics and Midwest staples.
“Almost every dish has a good story as to why it’s like this and where in the country we learned that,” he said. “It’s insane how good the producers in Michigan are. The beef, the pork, the chicken and fish are some of the best I’ve had anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s so exciting that the farmers took so much care, so we need to, too.”
This summer, Goessman wants to work with even smaller organic producers in West Michigan to take his menu to another level.
“There are parts of the menu that change every day, one thing or things,” he said. “When something comes in is so good, we can’t help ourselves, we just need to serve it.”
This story can be found in the March/April 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here.