Knapp’s Corner Standouts

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The Bird In Hand Chicken Sandwich at Kitchen 67 was voted the number one sandwich to try before you die by Huffington Post. Photo by Bryan Esler.

When one thinks of Knapp’s Corner, the words “on the cutting edge of design” probably aren’t what comes to mind. But if we zero in on one establishment conceived by local businessman Johnny Brann, we’re presented with a shining example that goes against stereotype for an area otherwise characterized by strip malls and chain stores, and the utilitarian lackluster design styles that accompany them. That restaurant is Kitchen 67— A Michigan Bistro, located at 1977 E Beltline Ave. NE.

The 4,600-square-foot location was unique when it opened in 2012 due to its emphasis on innovation and technology; tabletop iPads, wireless smartphone charging stations, a Gentex glass video wall, and a customizable high-res LED ceiling— one of only three in the world at the time. It was a concept Brann said he came up with in 2011 while walking through the Woodland Mall past the Apple store, admiring its sleek design.

Johnny Brann courtesy photo.

“I thought, ‘how I can I incorporate that?’” Brann said. “I was running the Brann’s restaurants in town, and I wanted to venture out on my own and not have the resources come from my family, make my own way so to speak.”

Brann happened to know Apple’s Chief Marketing Officer at the company’s corporate office in California, so he reached out, and that person connected him with the Apple’s in-house Design team.

“I connected with their team, started laying out and designing with their team,” Brann said. “Apple’s design team came up with the design. Bob Isreals here in town oversaw the project. The local architect to help put it all together was Jeffery Parker.”

Brann wanted to involve as many of the larger global companies headquartered in the area as possible.

“I toured Haworth. I wasn’t affiliated with them at the time. I was blown away with everything they had out at their Holland Headquarters.

“We were one of the first places to have inductive charging, use iPads for ordering and to play games. That came from Fulton innovation invented through Amway,” Brann said.

He partnered with Gentex to put some displays up.

“We had an LED ceiling— one of three in the world. The others were in Vegas and outside of London. We used it to display content over the years. We would incorporate logos, fun designs for the groups coming in,” he said. “I negotiated with Verizon and put some of their technology in my bar here back when IPads were new.”

By August of 2012, just 18 months after the original idea, Kitchen 67— A Michigan Bistro opened its doors.

“At the time it was just me and Twisted Rooster out here,” said Brann, referencing a restaurant that occupied the building where Meritage Restaurant Group’s Morning Belle is now located. “There weren’t really any other local restaurants in this area. It was a special place for me. I grew up in Forest Hills.”

Brann settled into the role. He enjoyed seeing his old teachers become customers of his restaurant, and having put his stamp on the community. After a few years, something quite surreal happened.

I got a text message from a customer.” It read: “You’re the number one sandwich to try before you die in Huffington Post,” referencing an article that came in the Dec. 6, 2016 issue of the newspaper.

“Then MLive called and a lot of other media,” Brann said. The restaurant was and remained very busy for several months making great efforts to meet the demand. “I was back there cooking chicken sandwiches every day during that time. We had a great chef. We used my grandpa’s seasoning, Founders’ beer to create the batter, and the chicken is, of course, the top-quality chicken that I’ve used in my family’s restaurants for decades.”

Brann’s grandfather was the owner of the original Johnny Brann’s Steakhouse in the Burton Heights neighborhood. The restaurant was a Grand Rapids icon in the 1960s that by 1967 was selling 800-900 “sizzlers” per night. People used to line up for their sizzlers around the block. “My grandpa invented that cut of meat,” he said, referencing the sizzler.

The name, Kitchen ’67, is an homage to that flagship year. The operation expanded to several other locations and has now sold more than 25 million sizzlers,” said Brann, quite proud of his family’s accomplishments.

The dining room at Kitchen 67 has had a makeover. Courtesy photo.

And with that pedigree comes purpose. Brann is actively involved in the community and estimates half of his time is spent on his businesses, while the other is spent on community minded endeavors. Some of the boards and other positions he holds include Economic Club of GR Membership Chair; Corewell Health Foundation Board; Corewell Health Gala Chair; Grand Action Advisory Board and Fundraising Board; West Michigan Policy Forum Policy Chair; Municipal Council Policy Chair; West Michigan Sports Commission Board Member; West Side Corridor Authority Board Member; and Mary Free Bed Fundraising committee for the Joan Secchia Rehabilitation Hospital.

“It’s been a great experience. It taught me a lot, being in the area. It was up and coming (Knapp’s Corner). I got to learn a lot about where the community direction was going. There was a certain expectation here in Knapp’s that was a little ahead of its time.

“I got the honor of being close with Peter Secchia,” said Brann. Secchia was a New Jersey born businessman who settled in Grand Rapids and served as the United States Ambassador to Italy (1989-1993). “He always used to call Grand Rapids the center of the universe. It’s spectacular, so unique and that’s down to the people.”

In late 2023, Kitchen 67 announced a “refresh” of its restaurant. By that time Brann had purchased Interphase Interiors, Haworth’s exclusive dealer and leveraged those resources to realize the overhaul of the interior.

“I utilized a lot of the Haworth product and the design team. I have my own staff of designers to work with and I work with Amanda Huizenga, a really wonderful designer here in town,” Brann said.

Along with some cosmetic changes are new dishes on the menu.

“Our chef did a wonderful job. What’s interesting about the menu is it’s well spread-out. We sell a lot of burgers and chicken sandwich type food, but also steak and frites, shrimp ravioli, the bistro dishes for the folks who want to have a more elevated drink or dish,” said Brann.

“I couldn’t elevate it so much that where it wasn’t open and inclusive and friendly to the sports teams that come in. But tonight, there’s a daddy, daughter event scheduled,” Brann said.

What else does Knapp’s Corner have to offer?

The lobby of Celebration Cinema North at Knapp’s Corner. Photo by Bryan Esler.

One can’t overlook the influence that John D. Loeks, and the family theater chain he started that operates under the name Studio C, has had on the area. Studio C, was responsible for the shape of most of what has evolved on the northwest corner of Knapp and E. Beltline NE. Celebration Cinema North is the company’s most attended theatre in the state of Michigan and has been a movie and event hub ever since it opened in 2001, Emily Loeks, director of community affairs for Studio C told Grand Rapids Magazine.  That’s due to its gracious indoor lobbies and event spaces. These spaces have been home to “Wizard’s Ball” fundraisers, collectively garnering more than a million dollars for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and the “Make a Wish” foundation, she said.

“We’ve recently renovated, and put full kitchens into service, along with heated recliners,” Loeks said.

Studio C owns the property. All of the businesses in the building connected to Celebration North are their tenants, including Tree Runner Adventure Park, which houses more than 60 obstacles and 12 ziplines, with 5 different difficulty levels and 9 different trails to choose from. The park invites visitors to climb, swing, and balance their way through the trees behind the Celebration Cinema.

Grand Rapids Magazine’s other top Knapp’s Corner picks: 

Twisted Yoga at Knapp’s Corner. Photo by Bryan Esler.

Italian: Licari’s

Chinese: Golden Wok

Thai: Thai Chef

Mediterranean: Sheshco, Zesty Gyro, Pita Way

Sushi: Jaku

Mexican: Tia Juana

Candy: Koeze

Other ammennities:

Clothing: Lennon & Willow (new)

Yoga: Twisted Yoga

Gym: Orange Theory

School: The Goddard School

Condos: Celedon Complex

Apartments: Knapp’s Corner Flats

Spa: Woodhouse

Pet store: Chow Hound

 

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