EAST GRAND RAPIDS – In our first installment, Stellafly sits down with food blogger George Aquino and entertainment writer Todd Chance, both of MLive Media Group–Grand Rapids, as part of a monthly series featuring local foodies and prominent personalities at Ramona’s Table boutique deli.
Aquino, originally from Manilla, Philippines, is the vice president and managing director of Amway Hotels and has a popular following as the food critic and blogger for The Grand Rapids Press. Chance, a native of Rockford, Ill., is a former radio show host who serves as Entertainment Concierge for The Press.
Our meal, prepared by chef Matthew Kemper and his expert staff, consists of appetizers and entrees from the remarkable catering menu and a wide selection of gourmet deli salads, sandwiches and dessert items.
Owners: Charlie Palm and Jackie Ziehm
Location: 2232 Wealthy St. SE, Gaslight Village, East Grand Rapids
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Private parties available upon request.
Fare: Boutique deli focussed on farm-to-table, locally sourced ingredients in sandwiches, wraps and salads, plus homemade pastries. It offers RT2U carry-out and home-delivered meals every Tuesday and Thursday, and also specializes in catering.
Ambience: Dark wood tables and a fireplace help create a modern and cozy setting for casual lunch and dinner conversation. Order off the menu, pay for it at the counter and food is delivered to the table.
The first items brought to the table are from the catering menu.
From blue jeans to black tie, Ramona’s Table caters private parties, private airline catering and events on-site and has additional seating capacity outside during the warmer months.
A couple of platters filled with candied bacon, stuffed cherry tomatoes, chipotle BBQ meatballs and Ramona’s signature boursin cheese bruschetta.
Stellafly: Hey, guys, thanks for joining us. Tell us about the impact social media has on your everyday life.
Chance: I had my own social media network because the morning radio show I hosted was my life. I shared everything that was happening within my life, so, when that went away, it was just a natural extension to still be able to have an audience and still be able to share it. Now, I found the business world and the personal world kind of merge. There’s that overlap between the two, which I kind of like.
You’re still able to get that feeling of connection with people, who are no longer listeners that are now readers, of what’s going on in my personal life. I think George and I are the same where our personal lives and business lives get blurred a lot. It becomes the same.
Aquino: Except, people know my wife’s name, people don’t know his girlfriend’s name.
Chance: (laughter) You know why? It’s your wife.
Aquino: Actually, my Facebook page, during work, I usually don’t mess around with it too much. Except during meals. I started Facebook just as an opportunity to connect with my friends in the Philippines.
Once I started posting what I do and I started my blog, what I’m doing in Grand Rapids, all these strangers started finding me. I’ve maybe friended 100 people, but then I realized when you’re out in the public and I started writing for MLive and The Press, every day, there’s always people who are following me or reading my articles. There’s a mix there. You really mesh your professional and your personal lives.
But if you love what you do and you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t feel like it’s work.
I’m posting what I eat and who I’m out with, but the impact on people, if they see you eating, it’s funny how if people read a positive review that restaurant’s business picks up. I was talking to a chef at Bistro Chloe Elan, who said, “My God, ever since you talked about the fish, we were doing five a day and now we’re doing 20. It’s getting exposure. I’ll always be honest, but my goal is promoting Grand Rapids whether it’s food at Ramona’s, an event or the people around. I’ll promote them because this is where I live.
A sampling of sandwiches (all $8.95) and gourmet side salads followed.
The menu price at Ramona’s Table includes choice of homemade roasted redskin potatoes, kettle chips, homemade coleslaw or any of the gourmet salads. Forget the typical bag of pre-processed potato chips and a pickle here.
The mouth-watering selections off the sandwich board:
Merry Mary: House roasted turkey, swiss cheese, tomatoes, wild mixed greens and cranberry aioli on cranberry walnut bread.
Spring Chicken: Chicken, basil pesto, Havarti cheese, roasted red peppers, balsamic drizzle, lettuce and tomato on homemade tomato and herb focaccia bread.
Tandoori Chicken: Spice-rubbed chicken breast, tomato jam, curried yogurt sauce, red onion and wild mixed greens on pita bread.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin: This farm-to-table monthly special is comprised of spice-rubbed pork tenderloin medallions, goat cheese, Fuji apples, mixed greens and honey mustard on a french roll.
The gourmet deli salads featured broccoli with almonds and raisins, cheese tortellini with basil pesto and a pleasantly surprising wheatberry salad that everyone was one of the highlights of the entire meal.
Stellafly: Social media is the perfect outlet for a food blogger.
Aquino: I think if you want to make your community a better place to live, you have to be a part of it. There isn’t a better avenue to promote that than social media, because it impacts so many people right away.
Chance: Yeah, what’s the most Twittered thing out there? Pictures of food. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, who cares what you just ate, it’s a grilled-cheese sandwich for crying out loud.” Comedians joke about it, but everybody likes to take pictures of food.
You’re an individual channel or brand. If you have spent the time and proven yourself to be a trustworthy source like George has with food, like I have with entertainment, you’ll follow that person.
A trio of dinner selections from the catering menu is up next.
It features succulent beef tenderloin bourguignon with a rich demi-glaze, mashed potatoes and carrots, grilled swordfish and a fresh salad consisting of mixed greens, squash, apples and blue-cheese crumbles.
The beef dish is love at first bite for Aquino and everyone else at the table.
Stellafly: Your impressions of the current food scene in Grand Rapids?
Aquino: I just reviewed a restaurant, it’s not published yet, it’ll be in April, and the article is about food in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and what we have here. All of these foods I’ve discovered, whether it’s in Hong Kong or Ko Samui (an island off the eastern coast of Thailand), I’ll compare them to what we have here.
I think there has been progress. Some restaurants might not have a solid menu, but they have two or three items that are really fantastic. We’ve come a long ways. There are naysayers, but, I mean, I travel all the time. A lot of what you will find outside Grand Rapids is already here. You just have to look for it, although you don’t have to look too far. Especially the last five years. You go down Cherry Street, you’ve got a solid caliber of restaurants. They weren’t there six or seven years ago.
I’m starting to see a lot of the elements of fine food here. There’s some things we’re still missing. I think we’re missing a good neighborhood Italian restaurant and we’re short on hip Asian restaurants like you see in L.A. or Miami.
Stellafly: Your favorite type of local cuisine?
Chance: For me, it isn’t a certain type of food. It’s the farm-to-fork concept. That’s my type of eating. Anything that can locally sustain West Michigan and make us self-sufficient, I love that concept.
Aquino: Well, of course, when it comes down to my last meal, it’s going to be something that’s close to my heart.
Filipino food will always be that special place.
Stellafly: So where might someone find good Filipino food here?
Aquino: My house and my friend’s house. I love to cook, I love Thai food, I love Vietnamese food. So, I have certain things that I just love. I also love Italian food. My wife’s Italian. Certainly, Asian food is near and dear to me. I always have to eat rice with a meal a couple of times each week.
You go to New York now and all of the critics there are saying Filipino food is going to be the next big thing. A couple of restaurants I just went to in New York feature Filipino and Thai, and it’s just awesome.
The fresh-baked items to finish our meal include carrot cake, turtle cookies and butter pecan cheesecake.
The carrot cake ends up being an epiphany for all of us.
Aquino puts the exclamation point on the night with a foodie alert to his blog via Facebook proclaiming co-owner Jackie Ziehm‘s scratch-baked carrot cake is the finest he has ever tasted in West Michigan.
Inside of a half hour, he gets 16 likes and numerous comments about the posting.
Stellafly: Your final impressions of the meal, fellas.
Aquino: I admit I’m a little bit ashamed I haven’t been to Ramona’s Table since I literally live a half mile from here. Word of mouth is so crucial. The wheatberry salad is stunning, the beef bourguignon was just spot-on, just a delicious meal, and I know I just had the best carrot cake in West Michigan this evening.
Those are three items that I would bet my life you would love if you come here.
Chance: “The candied bacon was delicious. I’ve had goat cheese rolled in cocoa and different treats before, but I’ve never had red grapes rolled in goat cheese and pistachios. I would’ve come here for the bruschetta and the goat-cheese-covered grapes alone. If Aquino says it’s the best carrot cake in town, I’ll have to back him up because I don’t even like carrot cake and I ate more than a couple of bites of that.
I really liked the Merry Mary sandwich the best – it’s Thanksgiving in a sandwich. I thought that was phenomenal.
Aquino: I must add that half the items we ate here tonight are from their catering business. I’ve been to enough events that have crappy catering food, so, if that’s an indication of what you serve, that’s something to look forward to.
It’s also a small business, family owned, a husband and wife here every day. We’ve got to support local businesses like this. They dished out high-caliber food. It’s really pretty impressive. I’ll be coming back to Ramona’s Table. I get my coffee just around the corner, so it’s going to be carrot cake and coffee for me.
Tell us which local foodies (chefs, sommeliers, bloggers) and prominent personalities you’d prefer to share their thoughts on topical issues when Stellafly sits down for a meal at Ramona’s Table.
Please submit suggestions in the comments section.
2012 was a year of huge growth for Stellafly. Right out of the gate, we started the year with receiving media clearance to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — a lifelong dream for me. As we packed up our bags and headed for the big city, I remember what an old dog friend had to say about winning ribbons at that show. She said, “If you can win there, you can win anywhere.” When I walk along the streets when I’m there, I still believe this is true of anything that you put your mind to while you’re in NYC.
In August, I returned to spend time with street photographer JD Urban who ended up becoming a wonderful friend and will be mentioned later in this post.
In 2012, we added photographer Ian Anderson from the Lansing area. We found Ian working as an assistant to local photographer Terry Johnston. Ian is also a full time student at Kendall College working towardan illustration major. I was thrilled to find that he’s nothing short of amazing with his camera work as well. He also doesn’t seem to mind doing the late or inclement weather events which makes the other guys happy. In the Spring, Summer and Fall months, you’ll see him trekking around on his bike and hanging out in coffee shops. We love having him around and hope to support him all the way to his next stage, which appears to be graduation and then eventually Los Angeles.
Raeanna Anglen came to us through a recommendation from a long time friend, Daniel Estrada, who organized a meeting to tell us about a really cool band that had moved to Grand Rapids from Tennessee. We met for the first time in Olive’s in East Grand Rapids. Raeanna’s brother, Riley, his bandmate, Travis Bailey, is married to Daniel’s adorable sister, Frances. We learned that Riley had already landed a job at Founder’s. Raeanna was working at Best Buy and showed enormous potential as a photographer. I asked to see her work. The portfolio was strong and we added her to our creative team. It’s so refreshing to have a photographer that is seeing and experiencing Grand Rapids for the first time. As you see more of her work in 2013, keep that in mind. Her perspective is lovely.
We also had the privilege of working with photographers Robert Bowden from the Detroit area, local photographer T.J. Hamilton and Dave Johnson from the lakeshore.
When the Grand Rapids Press began laying off their creatives last winter, I sincerely felt sorry for those that had dedicated so much of their life work to the publication. As we all know, things change and businesses have to make tough decisions sometimes. We want to send out a sincere thanks to the GR Press for releasing this huge influx of talent into the creative gene pool. This year, we worked with and featured stories by talented writers such as Terri Finch Hamilton, Cami Reister, Heidi Stukkie and Brian VanOchten. We also picked up Alexandra Fluegal, Laura Bergells and Danielle DeWitt. Be sure to look for more from them in 2013!
Oh, and GF is still hanging around too. Every once in a blue moon, he sends me an obscure email that makes me laugh. He always has a profile he’s working on for us, one with an unknown deadline that will likely need to be updated before publishing. He and his lovely wife, Vicky, became grandparents for the first time this year. I know that these two are enjoying retirement more than most do.
Sadly, we also said farewell to some of our talent as well. Michael Cook, Katy Batdorff and Charlie Hoffman headed off in different directions to pursue their dreams. We gave them hugs, kissed their cheeks and wished them well as they ventured out into the big world.
New this year…
Back in the old GRSD days… wait… who? Anyway, our focus was primarily on covering local events in and around the Grand Rapids area. In 2012, we continued to promote and cover the interesting events in our area but also ventured outside our comfort zone and explored Detroit and New York City. We shifted some of our focus to helping businesses develop an online presence on their social media networks. We became their brand managers — administrators of their facebook pages and twitter accounts. We got to know their audience. We introduced their audience our other clients’ audiences. Throughout the entire year, we picked up a handful of fantastic clients and campaigns that we now consider family. It’s been an exciting year for growth for each of them and we’re looking forward to working with all of them again in 2013.
We’re also continually encouraged & inspired by people who do great work. We’re honored to know: Roberta King, Diana Sieger, Jonathan Jelks, John Helmholdt, Johannah Jelks, Noddea Skidmore, Kaite Lyn Christoffersen, Shannon Williams, Jenny Disko, Todd Ernst, Ian Barrie, JD Urban, Jason Lawrence, Laura Bergells, Shelley Irwin, Jackie Siranni, Donna Bova, Mark Curtis, Diana Sikes, Tom Dowdall, Mark Curtis, Marcel Thibert, Audrey Sundstrom, Molly Klimas, Jim Murray, Patrick Plank, Nicole Cook, Maria Falice, Wendy Wassink, Scott Alfree, Teddy Drake, Heather Hinman, Calvin Webb, Jolon Hull, John VanderHaagen and so so many more that have helped us along the way.
As we move toward our Top Twelve of Twenty-Twelve, we must take note that for obvious reasons every event that we attended could not make the short list nor can the fantastic events we attended but were unable to photograph. Instead of listing our Top Twelve in order, we’ve put them into categories. Each of us submitted our favorite events with a brief explanation as to why it moved us.
Note: Add these to your ‘MUST ATTEND’ in 2013 calendars: Grand Rapids Antiques Market, Butterflies Blooming at Frederik Meijer Gardens, 2013 Special Olympics Polar Plunge, Irish on Ionia, TEDx Grand Rapids, Festival of the Arts, Arts in Ada, Green Gala: Come Out and Play, Festival of the Arts, The GRPS Turkey Trot, Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, Fashion’s Night Out 2013, St. Mary’s Foundation’s Up on the Roof, The Sixth Annual Legacy Ball, and Literacy Center of West Michigan’s BeeDazzling Spellebration.
Without further ado, it’s time to reveal Stellafly’s Top Twelve events of Twenty-Twelve.
Best Concerts of 2012
Submitted by Tim Motley
When we heard that Jane’s Addition was coming to Grand Rapids, we didn’t hesitate to buy our tickets and begin our attempt to secure a photo pass. An exciting and edgy show coming to Grand Rapids is always welcome — particularly for people like Tim and me.
DeVos Performance Hall was the perfect venue for these guys — an intimate setting where any seat really is a great seat. At showtime, the lights dimmed and recognizable Pink Floyd tunes played in the darkness.
We cover a lot of music but this show stood out for me from all the rest. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 40s and it was a fun trip back in time with great memories of parties and youth. Maybe it’s because at the end of the show, each of the band members walked along the edge of the stage, touching the hands of the fans. I am not one to get starstruck but when Dave Navarro came by and held onto my outreached hands for several seemingly long seconds, I will never forget that show. Ever.
After Tim shot the first three songs, the awesome DeVos Stage Security let Tim stay (we had a ticket for him) and we got to watch the entire show together. My husband had snagged Dress Circle seats not knowing that we were in the first row. Right next to the photographer.
In my opinion, Jane’s Addiction has truly only gotten better with time and definitely naughtier. That and the fact that I truly appreciate them as artists so much more now. Surely because I’m old. Great time. Makes the list!
Many thanks to Bari Lieberman for securing Tim a great spot to shoot. Right next to our seats.
St. Cecilia Music Center held its AnnualGreat Artist Gala on November 1st. The Pizzarelli family was there with John Pizzarelli, the world-renowned jazz guitarist and singer. Pizzarelli has cultivated a winning international career by singing classic standards and late-night ballads, and by playing sublime and inventive guitar. Using greats like Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra and the songs of writers like Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen as touchstones, Pizzarelli is among the prime revivalists of the great American songbook, bringing to his work the cool jazz flavor of his brilliant guitar playing.
Best Gallery Show of 2012
Submitted by Terry Johnston
New York City street photographer JD Urban captures the essence of the people he passes on the street every day – from the grandmother carrying her groceries, to the homeless drug addict shooting up on a park bench, to the street artist installing his latest creation in a lonely alley. Both gritty and beautiful, Urban’s work showcases all sides of the human experience, revealing the complexity of emotion that exists in each of us and drawing the viewer into his unique view of his surroundings while providing them with a deeper understanding of themselves.
Last September, Urban’s visit to Grand Rapids began with the debut of a short film from his groundbreaking and moving interview series, The Everyday People Project, at The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (UICA) on September 5th. The Project started as a way to help him understand himself through the stories of others and has become the new “reality” television, providing glimpses of hope through struggle, and victory after hardship, via moving and inspiring glimpses into the lives of its cast of “characters.”
The show was preceded by a performance from Grand Rapids’ own Casey Stratton, renowned singer/songwriter, whose powerful, angelic voice and insightful lyrics mirror Urban’s vision and are featured regularly on The Everyday People Project.
The next day, Urban’s photographic work debuted at The Richard App Gallery as part of Grand Rapids’ Fashion Night Out festivities. Showing with Urban was one of our own, photographer Terry Johnston, a practicing commercial photographer from Grand Rapids, whose work has been displayed across the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and Japan. Johnston displayed his latest photos, including pieces that document the work of underground street artist eufoe.
Best Sporting Event of 2012 Submitted by Terry Johnston
“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” — Nora Roberts
On January 1st, 2012 I asked. I had done my research and couldn’t believe that I was going to be emailing David Frei a personal email. I admit I was a bit nervous, more star struck than anything else. David is the Director of Communciations and the television commentary for Westminster Kennel Club. He was my ticket in.
Happy New Year!
I am writing today from Grand Rapids, Michigan to see what the possibility might be of getting a photo pass.
We are an online magazine based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have been in dogs for a long time. In fact, I had a Bernese Mountain Dog win Best of Breed in 2005. I hung up showing to pursue my interests in social media and marketing, started the magazine. Now we are branching out of Grand Rapids to other cities. New York is on our list for February.
We are mostly interested in shooting during the day, possibly at night. I have one professional photographer that will be traveling with me. We will also be trying to shoot some fashion while we are in the city.
This has been a life long dream of mine (to cover this properly.) I’m good friends with Clint Livingston, Jay Richardson and many other long time dog people. It would be fun to get some great pictures.
We will NOT be there shooting dogs for sale. This would be used ONLY for our facebook and website.
I really enjoy following you on facebook as well. We’re friends! 🙂
Let me know what you think. I’d also love to get some portraits of you (and a brief interview) if that might be possible.
Hi Laura: Please complete and return the credential application form in the Media Center on our home page and we will get you a photo pass. We are very limited in our media capacity for a number of reasons – great media interest is a pleasant problem to have – but I am happy to find room for you. Thanks for your interest in Westminster, we look forward to having you with us.
Upon our acceptance, Terry and I traveled to NYC and I experienced Westminster in a way I had never before. I’ve been to this dog show as an exhibitor, an assistant to a handler and a spectator. To experience it as media was by far my favorite. We interviewed David Frei. We hung out in the media center when they broke the news of big changes that would happen in 2013. We hung out with the USA Network cameramen and the major news stations. We were on the floor fighting for the perfect shot. We uploaded live pictures from the floor during the group competitions and our followers loved it.
We didn’t eat. We slept very little and worked our butts off. It was an exhilarating experience that we are looking forward to doing again in 2013!
This year’s Westminster Kennel Club 135th Annual Dog Show will be held on on Monday and Tuesday, February 11-12, 2013 at Madison Square Garden. Be sure to check them out on FACEBOOK.
Best Downtown Outdoor Festival of 2012
Submitted by Ian Anderson
This year, City Lights Music Festival expanded to a two-day event featuring more than 50 artists. A cross-section of West Michigan’s most popular DJs played in underground parking garages and open spaces surrounding the Calder Plaza. This year’s festival also brought in regional, national and international performers. Friday was headlined by Finnish trance producer Darude, and Florida-based progressive house/trance artist DJ Icey played on Saturday.
The event originated in 2009 as GREMN (Grand Rapids Electronic Music Night) a free event held downtown at Rosa Parks Circle organized by Grand Rapids creative Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative. Due to its popularity, it relocated to Calder Plaza in 2010, and organizers brought in higher-end talent. In 2011, Shannon Williams, Bangin’ Promotions, got involved and the single-day festival renamed itself City Lights Music Festival. It also offered free admission in addition to paid tickets for VIP seating. The event drew between 8,000 and 12,000 people downtown.
In 2012, Williams went solo and brought a larger slate of artists and did away with free admission. The VIP seating area was designated for patrons 21 and older, and was the only place where attendees could have cocktails, prime-view seating and opportunities to meet the artists and private bathrooms.
This summer, due to an overwhelming number of requests, City Lights Music Festival will now be on July 19th and 20th and we will be there with furry boots on!
Best Downtown Race of 2012
Submitted by Ian Anderson
The Color Run, otherwise known as the Happiest 5K on the planet, was called by local pro photographers, the most beautiful event to shoot.
August 5th was an absolutely perfect summer morning. After weeks of supressing heat, we found a break and woke up to ideal racing conditions.
There were people of all ages in white shirts, sweatbands around their heads, and brightly colored wristbands on their arms. Some had tutus, many were wearing neon knee socks, and several were wearing protective eyewear. This was the scene of the inaugural Color Run Grand Rapids. There were over 10,000 excited runners, walkers, and riders (including little ones in strollers covered with plastic) who were very excited at the prospect of completing what is known as “The Happiest 5K on the Planet.”
The Color Run is focused much less on speed and much more on just having a good time, therefore it is not timed. Along the route, there are four color stations—yellow, orange, pink, and blue—that spray runners with powder as they pass through. It’s seems like a reverse laundry detergent ad where in the beginning everyone is dressed in clean white shirts, and as they cross the finish line they are covered in colored dust. Each participant is given a packet of color to use as they cross the finish line and at the end it’s a no-holds-barred color fest.
Before the run, however, there was a flurry of activity on Calder Plaza as those who were participating spent time getting psyched up and ready for the most fun they will ever have in a 5K. There was plenty of music and Color Run staff even led group warm-up exercises in front of the main stage. The Color Run Store was open for business, selling everything from tattoos to hoodies. Promptly at 8:30, the first wave of 1,000 started off and with each group, the excitement seemed to build. Soon you could see clouds of color throughout the race route.
Each Color Run event connects with a local nonprofit, who receives a portion of the registration costs from each participant. The Grand Rapids event partnered with theWest Michigan Sports Commission and the Van Andel Institute’s Purple Community. Because of the Van Andel Institute’s involvement in Sunday’s event, they added a special purple section to the race.
After crossing the finish line, the thousands of Color Runners (as they will now be able to call themselves) gathered at Calder Plaza and enjoyed a fantastic dance party and celebration. All of the fun clothes and accessories aside, it was clear that the most beloved souvenir of the day was the dusting of color. Stained clothing, skin, and colored hair seemed to be a badge of honor for everyone who took part.
Most Beautiful Event of 2012
Submitted by Raeanna Anglen
Lights in the Night – ArtPrize
If you were anywhere near downtown Grand Rapids on Friday night, chances are you looked up in the sky and saw thousands of twinkling lights. This was the all part of Lights in the Night—a truly unique ArtPrize exhibit. Mark Carpenter and Dan Johnson brought their idea to the community—and the community responded in a huge way.
This was the second attempt for the event, as it was rained out the first time. But on Friday night, Mother Nature cooperated and thousands of people came out to light a lantern and be part of history. The lines seemed endless and lanterns were being handed out fast and furiously by dozens of volunteers. Everyone was so excited—while the big launch was set for 8:00, the lanterns were starting to appear in the sky before then.
As the official launch time neared, the excitement level got higher and higher. At 8:00, the first horn sounded, signifying the time to light the lanterns and shortly after that another blast from the horn came, telling the crowd it was time to launch. The sky was filled with beautiful lights and they were reflected on the many downtown buildings including the JW Marriott and Amway Grand Plaza hotels. There were plenty of “ooohs” and “aaahs” throughout the crowd and many were capturing the moment with their cameras and cell phones.
Hope really did take flight in downtown Grand Rapids that night in our city, and it was truly a night to remember.
Most Fun Event of 2012
Submitted by Richard App
The Reptile House – Revisited (Story: Diana Lamphiere)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It started with a Facebook invite. A little red notification icon as I logged in. I clicked on it, and had a cartoonish jaw-drop of a moment. It was finally happening. Someone was finally doing it. The Reptile House was coming back, if just for one night.
I reached out to Mark Sellers, the owner of Stella’s Lounge, where the event would be held: “Just wanted to touch base with you about the Reptile Revisited event at Stella’s coming up. I was a dancer there in the early/mid 90s. Let me know if you need any help.” The response was almost immediate, asking me to dance for the event. And just like that, the past was back. I would be the girl in a cage again, at least for one evening.
I met with Mark and his right hand man Garry Boyd (himself a Reptile alum) to check out the cage, get a feel for the space, and get a clear picture of what they wanted, which was authenticity. Five other original Reptile House cage dancers signed on. And thus began endless messaging between the dancers about old times, what to wear, and who we might see.
I combed through my music collection to make a Reptile House playlist, messaging often with DJ Colin Clive (formerly of Reptile A-Go-Go, currently of Control at Rocky’s), who would naturally be in charge of the music for the event, and DJ Tim Pratt, who was flying to GR from San Francisco to spin. I remembered the good times and bad at The Reptile House, and reflected again on what I already knew:Reptile was a pivotal moment in my life, a place and time I could point back at and say, “There. Then. That’s where and when I started to truly become who I was going to be.”
It felt like a nostalgia bomb had gone off in the Grand Rapids area. Everyone from back in the day was buzzing about the event, talking about the old days, and going through their archives. I dug through my trunk of memories and found photos, flyers, and a copy of our old dancers rules (example: “You must dance your whole set, even if you do not dig the music. You may get another dancer to sub for you if the tunes truly make you want to die.”). I went through all of my black clothes for fishnet, lace, PVC and leather.
On the whole, though, the vibe was one of joy. People who hadn’t seen each other in years were catching up. People who do still see each other often, but who met in the Reptile days were feeling sentimental. Some people looked so different as to be unrecognizable and some looked exactly the same, some people joked about how late they were out (hardcore partiers from days of yore who rarely made it out past 11 these days), but they were all there and on the nostalgia trip with the rest of us.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Reptile House Revisited was all about the best of times. We rediscovered our people. Turns out you can go home again.
Most Intriguing Evenings of 2012
Submitted by Danielle DeWitt
Couture for a Cure: Through a Creative’s Eyes (story: Danielle DeWitt)
In October, fashion took center stage on the Medical Mile, as over 400 people arrived at the Van Andel Institute for the seventh annual Couture for a Cure. The first floor of this world-class research facility was transformed into a scene from New York Fashion Week for this event, which raised thousands of dollars to support the life-changing scientific research that takes place in the floors above. After a reception that included a wide variety of hors d’ouevres and cocktails, the crowd moved to the seats along the runway for a fashion show put on by Leigh’s at Breton Village mall, and which featured the spring 2013 line by Daniel Vosovic, the NYC designer who was born and raised right here in West Michigan.
But this event did not just happen overnight. It was a year in the making. Planning began just days after the 2011 event, and a key player in the execution of the annual event since its inception in 2006 has been Patrick Plank, Creative Director and Director of Visual Merchandising for Leigh’s. His position covers a wide scope of work, from creating window displays for the store to spending time inNew York City on buying trips for clients. He was the perfect person to talk to inWest Michigan about orchestrating a large fashion show, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time watching him in action and hearing about how he got to where he is today.
I arrived at Leigh’s on the eve of Couture for a Cure, and walked back to see Patrick, who was wrapping up a day of model fittings. He told me there would be 16 models, each showing four different looks—Bond Bombshells, a tribute to the 50th anniversary of James Bond; Colorful Characters, because “color is big this year” according to Plank; Rock-Her, some rock-and-roll styles; and After Hours Diva, which would showcase this season’s evening wear looks. I watched as he put together just the right looks for each model and made sure that each look was complimented by the right shoes, bag, and accessories. There was energy in the fitting area that could not be missed, and Plank never slowed down. As I spoke with him I could see the wheels turning in his head, thinking about what else he could do to make the event even more special.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Patrick Plank once had aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher. While in high school, he had his first experiences in retail at North Kent Mall, which gave him the experience he needed to get a job atJacobson’s in 1992, while taking classes at Grand Rapids Community Collegeand Kendall College of Art and Design. For three years he worked in sales, starting in the boys clothing department, then men’s clothing, and then the women’s shoe department. It was around that time he began to use his art background and helped to create displays in the store, eventually earning him the title of Visual Merchandise Manager, a position he held until Jacobson’s closed its doors.
After Jacobson’s closed, Plank took initiative and the experience he had acquired and started his own company, P2 Merchandise Presentations. His clients included Leigh’s and Fitzgerald’s Men’s Store in Breton Village Mall, as well asWoodland Mall and Wolverine Worldwide. In 2005, Larry Leigh asked Patrick to come on board full-time. Seven years later, he still loves his work as much as he did when he began, and is very excited about the increased interest in fashion inWest Michigan. Couture for a Cure began as a small fashion show in Leigh’s and last night filled the Van Andel Institute venue to its capacity. Plank said he sees that this area has, “an increased awareness of fashion” and that people are “treating the event like a fashion event and truly dressing for the event.”
Couture for a Cure has become just that—a fashion event. And much of that has to do with the vision of Patrick Plank. From creating a longer runway and having more models on that runway than ever before, to creating a truly theatrical experience with amazing lighting, music, and even props for the Bond Bombshell segment, the entire show was a work of art.
Thursday night, I arrived and was able to see in real-life what I had heard about the night before. But in real-life, it was so much better. I watched Patrick in action throughout the evening, before the show began, making sure that everything surrounding the show was picture perfect—looking through each look on the racks backstage, making sure the lighting was just right, and checking in on all of the models in hair and makeup. He not only selects the clothing, he manages the staff, works with the production company, and finalizes the music for the show. With all of these responsibilities, I was amazed at how calm and collected he seemed…ready for anything.
Watching a fashion show from alongside the runway is a completely different experience than what is seen backstage. Thursday night’s show required each girl to have four or five looks, depending on whether they were part of the Daniel Vosovic show. They had all of about 2 minutes in between each look to change into their next outfit, line up, and have Patrick take one last careful look at them before they start to walk the runway again. Last minute adjustments are made, such as adding a brooch, clipping a piece of clothing with a binder clip to make it tighter, or helping a model get into her impossibly high heels and ready to walk the runway.
As the last girl came off the stage after the finale, I saw Patrick have a deep sigh of relief and a smile on his face, as I’m sure he knew that once again, he had just created something incredible. The applause and cheers from the audience was proof of that. He had created just the experience that he wanted it to be for everyone there.
When I asked Patrick what he would be doing after the night was over, he said he would relax, take some time for himself, and then begin preparing for the 2013 Couture for a Cure.
ArtPrize IV (story: Danielle DeWitt)
For the fourth year in a row, our city has become an art gallery.
For the fourth year in a row, hundreds of artists have come to Grand Rapids and put their work on display to be the topic of conversation for two and a half weeks.
And for the fourth year in a row, hundreds gathered for the ArtPrize Awards Event that took place on Friday night on the loading dock of the former Grand Rapids Press building, which had been transformed into a fantastic nightclub by Noddea Skidmore and her team. The event was graciously sponsored by Stella Artoisand Haworth. Volunteers served up cocktails and checked out the venue. Our favorite hometown food trucks, What the Truck and The Silver Spork dished up delicious small plates while friends celebrated the culmination of 17 fantastic days in our community.
While this may have seemed like a peculiar place to many, ArtPrize Marketing Director Todd Herring said it best when he commented, “the history of this building and the future of ArtPrize are all part of one red line. One story. About a community open to change.”
Herring played the role of Master of Ceremonies on Friday night. He was joined on stage throughout the evening by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, performing David Parson’s The Envelope, which was the perfect choice as the audience waited to find out what was in “the envelope.” The winner of ArtPrize IV. The ballet entertained the audience with moments of laughter amidst the moments of anticipation.
The first awards to be given out were the juried awards. There were five this year, each with their own sponsor and expert juror.
Time/Performance Based Art, sponsored by ITC Holdings:Three Phases by Complex Movements, selected by Juror Cathy Edwards.
Urban Space Award, sponsored by Spectrum Health:Flight by Dale Rogers, selected by Juror Susan Szenasy
Three Dimensional Work, sponsored by Haworth:More or Less by ABCD 83, selected by Juror Lisa Freiman
Two-Dimensional Work, sponsored by Varnum:Habitat by Alois Kronschlaeger, selected by Juror Tyler Green
Outstanding Venue Award, sponsored by Grand Valley State University:Site Lab, selected by Juror Tom Eccles
Next up was Darren Kuipers, Interim Executive Director of ArtPrize, who took a moment to thank the artists, venues, sponsors, volunteers, and staff who all worked tirelessly these past few weeks (well, the ArtPrize crew works all year) to make this event possible. (If you are out during ArtPrize these last couple of days, and you see someone with a volunteer shirt or a staff badge, make sure you tell them how much you appreciate all of their efforts to make this event happen for our city. Without them, this would not be possible!)
Then, the man of the hour, Rick DeVos, appeared on stage. He elaborated on Herring’s remarks about our community being “open to change.” He said, “Grand Rapids is emerging as a remarkable place where wild ideas can find an audience.” This year, that audience was made up of an estimated 400,000 people of all ages and backgrounds.
DeVos spoke about the importance of trying new things in order to, “make better things and make things better.” One of the new things ArtPrize tried this year was the Juried Grand Prize. To present that award, David Rosen, President of Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University, joined DeVos on the stage.
Rosen told the audience that he came from Los Angeles to Grand Rapids, “not just for a job, but for life in a community filled with the traditions of art and design. A community driven by the engine of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.” He spoke of the courage that ArtPrize celebrates—as well as the “capacity and accomplishments of those who create.”
He also made an announcement of their newly formed five-year partnership withArtPrize. Kendall College has signed a commitment to be an Exhibition Center and Premier Leadership Sponsor and pledged to fund the $100,000 Juried Grand Prize Award for the next five years. He then announced this year’s Juried Grand Prize, Displacement, by Design 99.
Rick DeVos then announced another partnership, this one with Meijer Corporation, who has pledged $650,000 over the next five years to support thepublic vote. It is wonderful to see the community coming together to sustain ArtPrize, and maintain the momentum for the foreseeable future.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. Third Place in the ArtPrize IV public vote was given to Frits Hoendervanger, for his piece, Rebirth of Spring. Second Place went to Martijn van Wagtendonk for Song of Lift. And the winner of ArtPrize IV was … Adonna Khare and her piece, Elephants. Khare was rendered speechless but for two words: Thank You. Her reaction was priceless.
After the awards, guests enjoyed a beautiful celebratory after party.
There you have it. ArtPrize IV is a wrap. As Rick DeVos said Friday night, “this does not happen anywhere else in the world and it’s really cool.”
Yes, Rick. And the city is truly grateful to you for your leadership and for sustaining the growth of ArtPrize over the last four years. Our team at Stellafly Social Mediaare honored to have been a part of this fourth year of ArtPrize.
These are the eight tenets of the ATHENA Award, presented by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce (GRACC). This was the 23rd year this award has been given out, and each of the nominees in both the ATHENA and ATHENA Young Professional categories exemplify each of those eight principles.
On September 6th, 2011, the nominees were honored at a reception held on the rooftop of Lambert, Edwards & Associates in downtown Grand Rapids. Each individual was introduced to the group following remarks from Rick Baker, President and CEO of the GRACC, and Heather Gluszewski of Huntington Bank. It was an opportunity for each of them to come together and congratulate one another before the annual ATHENA Award Luncheon that which was held on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at the JW Marriott.
The ATHENA Award recipient this year went to Carol Valade of Gemini Publications. She was joined by eight other nominees, including:
Ten young professionals were also selected as finalists for the ATHENA Young Professional Award. The winner, Milinda Ysasi Castanon, was announced at the September 18 luncheon, and these ten women are:
I was and continue to be honored and humbled by the nomination. More importantly, I have worked with the ATHENA program since the nomination and love the work that they do and their recognition of women in the workplace.
Congratulations to each of these women who are making a difference in their professions and throughout the community.
Most Rewarding Event of 2012 — GRand Jazz Fest Submitted by Laura Caprara
The best part of my role with Stellafly is meeting new people with big dreams. Dreams that are spilled out over coffee or beers. They tell me things that they want to make happen. They tell me because they believe that we can help them get there.
Picking the GRand Jazz Fest 2012 as one of my two picks of 2012 was easy. I watched (and helped) a dream come true.
Last winter, I met with Audrey Sundstrom and her friend and PR Maven, Molly Klimas. Audrey wanted to have a Jazz Festival downtown. She wanted it to be free to the community. She wanted it to be successful.
On an extremely limited budget she hired the Stellafly team for one month. We knew that this wasn’t going to get them much but we were in to help as much as we could. We helped get legs under their Facebook page. We covered their press conference, which was hit by an unexpected snow storm mid stream.
Audrey reminds me of the Little Engine that Could. She worked hard and diligent on limited resources. She made sure she was inclusive all the way down to the audience she hoped would attend. She kept her chin up when she realized that City Lights Music Festival would be taking place the same day, just blocks away.
Sundstrom and her husband, Greg, frequently attend jazz festivals around the state. After repeatedly telling her husband she wanted a festival here in Grand Rapids, he finally told her, “If you want it here, you might just have to start it yourself.”
With an overwhelmingly positive response from a crowd of thousands, the six musical acts and everyone else involved, the event was considered a huge success.
As West Michigan Jazz Society Board Member John Miller put it, “This could be the start of something big.”
Sundstrom originally approached the West Michigan Jazz Society (WMJS) and asked for suggestions on local jazz musicians. They became the nonprofit fiduciary for the event, which helped GRandJazzFest get off the ground.
“The West Michigan Jazz Society played an important part by giving GRandJazzFest credibility as a jazz event,” Sundstrom says.
Early support by DTE, the presenting sponsor, and from the Downtown Development Authority kicked the event into further motion. Soon, Sundstromstarted her own nonprofit, GR and Jazz, with friends and fellow jazz aficionados,Desiree Foster and Patti Flood, and then asked Molly Klimas of IntentPR to come on board to help with publicity for the event. Before the event, many more sponsors and friends got involved to ensure its success.
Sundstrom’s vision for GRandJazzFest was modeled after the River Raisin Jazz Festival in Monroe. She wanted to offer a variety of jazz genres such as big band, contemporary, traditional and Latin jazz and make it free so anyone could attend.
The August 18 event at Rosa Parks Circle began shortly after noon with one of West Michigan’s premier jazz ensembles, The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, who has played traditional, swing and big band favorites for more than 35 years, including playing the first and third Sunday of each month at Founder’s Brewery. Dressed in matching blue shirts, the Orchestra kicked off the festival with upbeat big band music including a few sax solos. The entire day was filled with amazing regional talent.
Sundstrom was still smiling the next morning and thrilled with the festival’s results.
“It turned out to be everything I had hoped for,” she said. “I am grateful to all of the sponsors, the staff, the volunteers, the musicians and everyone who came out.”
Sundstrom had the vision for GRandJazzFest, but insists, “The event wouldn’t have been what it was without everyone’s help and so many people deserve a lot of credit.”
Thank you Audrey Sundstrom and your talented team for bringingGRandJazzFest to Grand Rapids. Please “wash away our dust” again next year.
And if the success of Grand Rapids’ first-ever jazz festival is the deciding factor on whether or not there will be a second GRandJazzFest, you might want to block out the third Saturday of August 2013 now.
I consider myself a fairly crafty (as in arts and crafts) person, so I was pretty excited when I first heard about Brush Studio, in Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids. Brush is a new concept to West Michigan, offering painting classes in a social setting. You can take a class on your own, make it a girls or a couple’s night out, a family affair, or a team-building event for the office.
Brush is the brainchild of Lisa Jabara and Heather Callahan. The two met when Callahan began working at Hot Mama, another business owned by Jabara, and also located in Gaslight Village. They have known each other for five years and have been working on this venture for the past year. The idea came from Callahan after she and her husband had visited friends in Colorado and saw a similar concept called Canvas and Cocktails. She saw an opportunity for this in West Michigan and approached Lisa on the idea. Heather is a former 2nd Grade teacher with a creative arts minor in college, and Lisa has a business background, which made the perfect combination for starting Brush Studio.
One of the most popular offerings of Brush is their private parties. They work one of three ways—a group can reserve the entire studio for themselves, they can come and paint during a regularly scheduled class, or Brush will come to the group. Parties can be for kids or adults, and this is an excellent family activity.
For every class, Brush provides all materials—a 16×20 canvas, paints, brushes, and an apron. If your group would like to reserve the entire studio, you can select the painting they would like to create or Brush Studio artists will create a custom painting just for your event. Brush has partnered with Ramona’s Table in Gaslight Village to offer catering, and also offers beer and wine. If there is a specific type of beer or wine your group wants to have that night, Brush will make sure it is available to you. This can be a great way to celebrate a special occasion or even a team-building activity for the office. For this type of private party, the cost to have it Sunday-Thursday is a $200 fee plus a $35 painting charge for each individual, and on a Friday or Saturday, the cost is a flat fee of $2,500. Those prices do not include the catering.
Groups can also join a scheduled class for just the cost per painter (which varies from $30-$50 depending on the painting), and pre-order food from Ramona’s so it is there when they arrive. The staff at Brush makes sure your group is seated together and works hard to ensure everyone is having a wonderful time.
Lastly, Brush Studio offers “Brush To-Go,” an option that brings the paint studio to you. This could be a great way to add a little something extra to a dinner party at your home or have a fun team-building event at the office. This option is offered for a $200 travel/set-up fee plus $50 per painter.
On Friday night the Sparkly Stellafly and a few of her friends signed up for the “Starry Night” class, so they could re-create the famous work by Van Gogh. It was a fantastic experience. From the moment you walk through the door, the staff is highly attentive and extremely helpful in getting you set up with your palette, brushes, apron, and paint. Seating is already assigned when you arrive (so be sure and let them know if you are coming with friends and want to sit together) and there is a little bit of social time before the class starts.
As you get set up at your station, you also have an opportunity to order food from Ramona’s Table off of a custom menu they put together for Brush Studio, or purchase beer or wine from the bar.
Once the class begins, the instructor introduces the painting and the brushes that the class will be using. (Jabara and Callahan found local artists mostly through word of mouth and through some postings at Kendall College) Then you are taken step-by-step in creating the painting, and the rest is up to you. It was interesting to observe each painter’s style and interpretation of “Starry Night” and I was amazed at the fact that mine actually somewhat-resembled Van Gogh’s masterpiece.
During the class, the Brush Studio staff is walking around, offering to refill your glass, get you more paint, and answer any questions you may have. Our class last night included a private party and they had a very fun night. They had arranged for food from Ramona’s Table and pre-ordered their favorite wine, and it was all waiting for them when they arrived. When the class was over, there was still time to socialize and shop in the retail section offered in the front of the studio. All of the products are made by artists with some connection to West Michigan. On the night of your class, you receive 10% off all retail purchases.
All in all, this was a really fun way to spend a Friday night, and I highly recommend this for anyone—no matter if you consider yourself creative or not, it’s a fun way to get together with friends. If you are interested in trying it out, go to their website or check out their Facebook page for a schedule of classes and to register online. Or give them a call at 616.805.5099—tell them Stellafly sent you.