A French restaurant downtown is diversifying its capabilities and offerings.
New Hotel Mertens is in the process of adding a bakery, café, events space and basement prep kitchen at its existing location inside the historic building at 35 Oakes St. SW.
Construction began last week and is scheduled to be completed this spring.
Weekday breakfast services are suspended during construction, but all other operations will run as usual.
“Once the project is complete, we will occupy the entire original first floor of New Hotel Mertens,” said Anthony Tangorra, New Hotel Mertens restaurant director and majority owner of Mertens Hospitality.
“Unifying that space with its beautiful and historic tiled floor has been an ambition since our founding.”
Tangorra said the expansion is patterned after brasserie/bakery concepts like Balthazar in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, where French food and drinks are sold on one side and a shop with baguettes and pastries is on the other.
He added it has always been his goal to expand into the space to the right of New Hotel Mertens on Oakes and Commerce, as it has its own entrance off the street and 14-foot floor-to-ceiling windows that are perfect for bread and pastry displays.
The space was previously occupied by Interphase Interiors until late last year, when the firm moved to 3036 Eastern Ave. SE.
The new spaces
The basement kitchen will expand New Hotel Mertens’ food preparation and baking capabilities.
The bakery will be enclosed by eight-foot-tall partitions that will allow sounds and aromas to mingle with those in the restaurant, which will be connected by an interior door to the bakery. The partition between the bakery and the restaurant will be glass to allow for a view of the bakery from the restaurant.
Together, the first-floor expansion comprises 1,500 square feet. It includes seating for about 20 guests with outlets and free Wi-Fi, as well as an adjoining café with a separate menu from the restaurant.
In the warmer months, the restaurant plans to add outdoor seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the street in front of the bakery.
New Hotel Mertens is also adding event space for private parties, meetings and weddings that can accommodate 20 to 200-plus guests between the interior and the existing rooftop lounge, Haute.
When not in use, the events space could be used as restaurant seating.
Bakery and café offerings
New Hotel Mertens’ bakery will offer French breads and baguettes, pastries, croissants, cakes, breakfast confections and breakfast dishes.
For lunch and through the late afternoon, it will sell sandwiches with house-made breads and lunch meats, salads, galletes, or buckwheat crepes with fillings, and more.
In the evening, it will offer house-made gelato, French confections and desserts.
The café will offer coffee, espresso, tea and other beverages all day, including a New Hotel Mertens coffee blend developed by The Sparrows Coffee, Tea & Newsstand.
All of the breakfast and lunch options will be available for weekday delivery from the early morning until the late afternoon.
Firm on the project
Ghafari // Concept Design in Grand Rapids is the architect and designer on the project.
Mertens Hospitality and New Hotel Mertens
Grand Rapids-based Mertens Hospitality owns and operates New Hotel Mertens, a French restaurant occupying the former lobby and dining room of what was once an early 20th-century hotel with the same name.
It also owns and operates Haute at New Hotel Mertens, a seasonal rooftop lounge atop the building.
Photo: An exterior rendering of the bakery. Courtesy New Hotel Mertens