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Smells of pasta fill the air. Paintings of Italy adorn the brick walls. There are people everywhere, sitting at tables covered with white cloth, wine glasses, and food. A bowl of linguini pasta and fresh steaming clams passes by me. I ask the name of the dish: Linguine Alle Vongole Al Vino Bianco. I order one and it’s just as good as it looks. As I eat, around me patrons laugh, talk and enjoy their meal. I may as well be in Italy.
This is Tre Cugini, on Monroe Center Street, a restaurant that does two regular months' worth of business during the three weeks of ArtPrize. In fact, restaurant manager Jim Schramm says he's been working 18 days in a row, with no break.
“We are all prepared to work some very long hours over the course of ArtPrize,” Schramm says. “I expect my staff to work a lot of doubles, and extended hours in general, and I look at it like I need to lead by example and be here every day with them.”
It is common knowledge that ArtPrize is Grand Rapids’ most popular event. With all this increased traffic through the city, restaurants have to be on their toes to accommodate the hungry art seekers. Apparently, they are ready for the challenge, giving visitors all kinds of delicious food options and excellent local beer.
Back in 2009, local restaurants were not well prepared for the amount of people visiting the city, and it was reported that some places even ran out of food. That has changed, however, as the restaurant owners now know what to expect, and they are reaping the benefits.
Schramm says he begins planning for ArtPrize starting in March. Tre Cugini gets a jump start in hiring and training so that the staff is fairly seasoned by the time ArtPrize comes around.
“This year I feel as though we are the most prepared for the extra volume than we have ever been. All we have to do now is execute the plan correctly that we have been talking about and getting ready for all summer. We look at it as our time not only to make great revenue, but also as our time to shine!” Schramm says.
Sometimes though the ArtPrize rush can get a little too much to handle. Katie Wojciakowski, co-owner of Mojos Dueling Piano Bar, located on Monroe Avenue, says, “Getting 100-200 people within an hour’s time frame tends to put staff and customers on edge. We as a business try to accommodate the demand, but when there is that many people in downtown all looking for a place to eat, and quick, there is just no way to keep everyone happy unless we prepackage lunches.”
Most restaurants can only do so much before they can’t let anyone in anymore. But these restaurants have plans in place to handle the extra demand.
Mark Dorich, the Director of Retail Operations at Founders Brewing Company located on Grandville Avenue, says that they open earlier on Sundays, as well as increase the amount of staff scheduled for each shift.
Founders is also featuring nine pieces of art including one titled “Steve and the Things That Are Bothering Him” and a particularly stunning piece on a 40x40 canvas called “Untitled.” The acrylic painting looks like a school of fish swirling around in a tight group, but it’s actually a lot of small and big, sharp blue lines. It is completely entrancing.
Mojos isn’t usually open for lunch, but it is during ArtPrize. They also take dinner reservations for Friday and Saturday nights, but during ArtPrize are only taking walk-ins. The restaurant is displaying three pieces of art, and one such piece is visible before you even walk in. It’s a butterfly sitting on a flower aptly named “Butterfly on a Flower" (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida).
There is a different kind of permanent art in Mojos too, and that’s the two jet black pianos that sit on a slightly elevated stage, ready to entertain. Wojciakowski adds that Mojos takes pride in being one of the best Dueling Piano Bars in the country.
“This will give people from out of town, and people that just do not come into downtown that often, a chance to experience our talented players and the awesome show they put on every night,” says Wojciakowski.
The managers and owners declined to give out actual numbers of how much ArtPrize affects their businesses, but assure readers that ArtPrize is a bountiful time of the year for revenue, one that carries them into the holiday season.
“Our biggest day last ArtPrize was 185 people for lunch and just over 300 for dinner, with about 110 seats in the establishment - needless to say, we all remember that one!” says Schramm.
Events like ArtPrize are part of one of the fastest growing forms of tourism. They bring in new visitors who normally wouldn’t experience a certain area, and these new visitors need good food to keep them going. Luckily for them Grand Rapids boasts some unique and excellent restaurants that seem quite well-equipped to handle hungry art lovers.