Text: R. Collins
In Grand Rapids, there’s been a slight shift in what “takeout” means. Many have recently noticed the names of their favorite local restaurants on packages lining the shelves of neighborhood grocers. Thanks to an innovative pilot partnership between SpartanNash and eight West Michigan restaurants—including Osteria Rossa, Friesian Gastro Pub, Westside Social Tavern, and City Built Brewing Company—popular heat and serve dishes from local menus can now be found on the shelves of 25 local grocers, including select D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fares, and Forest Hills Foods and Ada Fresh Market locations.
The best part: 100 percent of the proceeds from sales will cycle back to each restaurant to help support them during the coronavirus pandemic. The choice to aid West Michigan restaurants was simple for SpartanNash Company, according to Meredith Gremel, vice president of Corporate Affairs & Communications at SpartanNash. With direction from Dan Estelle, director of Retail, Meat, and Seafood at SpartanNash, and a pooling of resources from IT to food safety, SpartanNash was able to quickly repurpose its core goals for supporting local vendors, supply, and economic development.
“With COVID-19, Dan took that to the next level and said, ‘what can we do to try to support our local restaurants?’ They clearly have so much in common with us in that they’re in the local food space and we both love creating exceptional food opportunities for families and with people at home,” Gremel said.
SpartanNash, which has been headquartered in Grand Rapids for more than a century, distributes grocery products to a diverse group of independent and chain retailers, and it operates 155 corporate-owned retail stores under brands like Family Fare, Dan’s Supermarket, and D&W Fresh Market. Many of these retailers in Grand Rapids are now stocked with items from the partnering restaurants, which include Anna’s House, Big O’s, Cedar Springs Brewery, City Built Brewery, Donkey Taqueria, Friesian Gastro Pub, Osteria Rossa, and Westside Social.
When choosing what to offer patrons, a common desire among partners was delivering restaurant quality in dishes that are easy to save, prepare, and enjoy at home. Currently, monkey bread, Baked spätzle, pork tacos, and curried chicken and noodles are only a few of the heat-and-serve dishes on shelves.
“It has been very interesting trying to change our mindset from a restaurant setting to selling prepared dinners at local grocery stores and doing takeout. We have figured the dishes need to be recognizable, easy to prepare, and delicious,” said Craig Jones, co-owner and operator of Friesian Gastro Pub, an eclectic Midtown pub currently offering—among those curried chicken and noodles—hearty dishes like oven-ready lobster mac and cheese, and smoked chicken wings with spicy garlic sauce.
A similar approach was taken at Westside Social, which is the friendly American tavern just off Lake Michigan Drive. The tavern is offering a trio of mac and cheese dishes for two, from the “Cheesiest” to the “Smoked,” which comes with DeVries Farms pork, smoked in-house, and accented with fresh jalapeño and a peach BBQ sauce. Each are best paired with an IPA or lager, advises Katie Stone, general manager at Westside Social.
“We talked about what options would best suit the concept of take home, reheatable meals—which ones would be easiest for consumers and would appeal to them,” Stone said. “It had to be the same quality we would serve in our restaurant as well. We all agreed that mac and cheese would be the best, and our community and regulars rave about our mac and cheese selection so it was a no-brainer.”
In the spirit of supporting local, each dish from this partnership invites creative drink pairings from local breweries, distilleries, and cideries—many of which are also found in-stores or available for curbside pick-up. Of course, it’s always an option to support the partnering restaurants that are still offering curbside pick-up and takeout as well. Gremel also shared that an increase in carry-out volume from Anna’s House was a pleasant side-effect of the new SpartanNash partnership, as was some restored jobs and a minimized risk for wasted fresh ingredients on slow carry out days.
“There was risk there and this has helped minimize their risk, too; now that we’re up and running and it’s just been great to see,” Gremel said.
As for a general timeline for the partnership, there’s really no telling; although another common theme amongst participants is that an expanded, longer term partnership would be enjoyed.
“The cool part about this program is we’re learning every day, asking our customers what they think,” Gremel said. “Restaurants clearly are able to meet production right now so it’s a good thing to know. There’s so many moving parts to when the restaurants are going to be able to open back up and at what capacity, so we’re taking it one day at a time.”
See a full list of meals to-go at spartannash.com/restaurant-meals-to-go/