Not your father’s Olive’s

East Grand Rapids staple has new owners and a new look in the works.
Stuffed acorn squash, one of the new dishes at Olive's in East Grand Rapids. Photos by Lisa Enos

I lived around the corner from Olive’s, 2162 Wealthy Street in East Grand Rapids, for years. I love cooking and entertaining in my home, so I didn’t eat there every week, but often enough to know the menu; what I liked and what didn’t suit my taste.

One of four truly sensational East Grand Rapids sit-down restaurants during my time in Gaslight Village, Olive’s was the go-to place to meet friends for a drink. The cocktails have always been top notch, and if I had one too many (like the time I was introduced to Long Road Distillers’ Aquavit), I could always walk home.

Chicken lettuce wraps

I first dined at Olive’s when I was kicking around the idea of living in East Grand Rapids, around 2006, when I moved home from London (England) with my toddlers and their father. It was a Friday night in the fall, the night of an EGR home football game. We’d been checking out houses in the area and, admittedly, had tried to get into Rose’s on Reeds Lake, but the wait was too long. We were lucky enough to get the last table for four upstairs in a rather tiny, but cozy room. I remember ordering an Italian dish, something easy to share with my three-year-old. The food was excellent, the staff accommodating. All the boxes were checked that established the restaurant as a place to which I would return.

Given my long history with the establishment, I was a little taken aback to hear the place had changed hands. Oh, no, I thought. Is this one of those instances when, as they say, all good things must come to an end?

Mull it over

I decided to reach out and see what was up and what I found was that plenty of changes are afoot.

First of all, I found out this little East Grand Rapids institution is getting a celebrity makeover by interior designer, Jean Stoffer. That’s to come sometime in the near future, so if you’re sentimental about this place, get in and get your selfies before it becomes unrecognizable.

Next, I found out the aesthetics aren’t the only thing about Olive’s that’s undergoing change. The staff-driven restaurant has recently been purchased by some new owners: Marc and Charlene Montpetit.

“We’re really excited. Neither of us have restaurant experience,” said Marc, who related a story about how he and his wife came to be the proud new owners of the neighborhood restaurant that came complete with a wine locker for regulars.

The wine locker is for people who frequent the establishment. They can enjoy high end wine without paying restaurant prices

The program allowed repeat clientele to purchase as many as six bottles of wine per month at “just a little above cost,” according to manager Lynn Vandenberg. The idea is for people who frequent the establishment to be able to enjoy high-end wine in the restaurant without paying restaurant prices for the bottles. A corking fee of $5 applies.

Before the Monpetits took over, the previous owner of Olive’s lived out of state. The manager and other employees took care of the day-to-day business. Montpetit’s daughter, who had been a hostess and server at Olive’s, came home from work one day and announced that the restaurant was for sale and that the staff wanted Marc and Charlene to buy it.

“We made an offer and they accepted. The restaurant has been ours since October first (2022),” said Marc Montpetit.

Chef Daren Palacios started in July. Palacios told Grand Rapids Magazine that he had cut his chops working in restaurants in Boston where he found himself in kitchens that he had no business being in.

“I didn’t go to culinary school,” Palacios said. Instead, he has worked his way up through the ranks of the Boston culinary scene. After several years there, he got the itch to return to his home state, where he’s set about transforming the hometown cuisine. He found the Grand Rapids restaurant scene had become far more adventurous than he had left it.

As for the menu at Olive’s? There are some old favorites that will remain on the menu, like the mushroom crostini. “That’s never going away,“ he said.

Chef, Daren Palacios

“But it’s better quality mushrooms now,“ said Palacios, who is confidently sourcing mushrooms, microgreens and meat as locally as possible and creating dishes with “what’s fresh” in mind.

I tried a stuffed acorn squash, a quintessential fall classic. Not only was the presentation divine, the combination of flavors coalesced into the best restaurant squash experience of my life.

Palacios started with a locally sourced acorn squash and stuffed it with sausage he seasoned himself from fresh ground pork he procured right down the street at Louise Earl Butcher. This, he added to a wild rice and herb blend and topped it with flash fried sage. The delicacy was expertly plated on a puree of apple butter.

“The new menu was launched in August and that was very well received,” Montpetit explained.

Montpetit said the restaurant’s most popular dishes will remain on the menu, but there will be new foods afoot as well. Pop-up brunches and wine pairing dinners are on the horizon.

Palacios was relieved that the regulars weren’t upset to see some of the old dishes go or change significantly, like the chicken lettuce wraps.

If your experience with lettuce wraps— like mine— was previously limited to the ones served in PF Chang’s, then you’re in for a treat.

The presentation was stunning; tangy pieces of sesame seed speckled chicken
was delicious and delightfully crispy. The accouterments— shredded carrot, green onions and (my favorite) a pickled ginger combo, and sushi rice were served in cute little side jars with the freshest of the fresh bibb lettuce and chopsticks. I ate every last bit of this appetizer and was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish the main course.

Olive’s is located at 2162 Wealthy St. in East Grand Rapids

I started the culinary adventure with the Mull it Over cocktail. It was so good I could have easily had three of them, but since I no longer live within walking distance, I reined it in and just had just the one.

“It’s been packed, even on a Monday. We’re really excited,” Montpetit said. “We’re even starting to see some people from outside the community come.”

I guess by that, he meant me.

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