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Trillium Haven, a new restaurant in Eastown, has now been open for almost a month, and owners Michael VanderBrug and Anja Mast are still adjusting to the differences between restaurant ownership and their previous project, a community supported agriculture farm located in Jenison.
The transition, Mast explains, was an obvious one.
“All of our friends, all of the people that we care about, are in the restaurant industry. They are chefs, they are caterers, they are restaurant employees. We brought in the vegetables through the back door for a long time. We became a part of it,” says Mast. “We would be talking food with these people and looking at the bigger picture. It was a connection and we had the feeling that we were speaking the same language.”
This language includes the importance of consuming fresh from the farm produce, which can be overlooked by shoppers at farmers markets and grocery stores. Mast realized that the best way to lead people to a healthier lifestyle was to do the work herself.
“I can’t make people buy vegetables. I can’t make people choose to cook with them. It all became very frustrating to me. But I realized that if I cook them, people will eat them, and they won’t even know what hit them,” Mast says.
The transition from farm to restaurant spawns from the couple's desire to have healthier food options in Grand Rapids while providing more opportunities for Grand Rapids farmers and changing the minds of the people that said no.
“I think Grand Rapids needs more choices. I opened this restaurant because I couldn’t find what I wanted to eat. As a restaurant owner, you do what you love and just hope that others will respond,” says Mast. “The food we serve here is the food that I serve my family. It’s so basic and wholesome.”
Mast, whose primary interest is urban agriculture, wants to expand the idea of traditional farming. She believes that inner city farming could bring the community together and provide opportunities to younger generations who are looking for stimulation.
“I want to see farms on Division. Inner city farms are possible in Detroit, and I want everything that is happening in Detroit to happen in Grand Rapids,” says Mast. “People in their twenties want to be stimulated and excited, and they are leaving Grand Rapids and going to places like to Detroit to find it. I feel that I personally need to stop that. Grand Rapids needs more idealistic, visionary, mission driven projects for people in their twenties.”
Opening Trillium Haven offers more than healthy options to the community. Mast and VanderBrug’s goal is to support local farmers.
“This restaurant is about supporting and training small growers; it’s not about us,” Mast says. “If our farm was shut down tomorrow, well that’s fine. What’s important is that the food being shuttled in has integrity and is grown ethically.”
Mast says that not everyone has found interest in the opening of Trillium Haven. The couple has faced criticism and negative opinions about their idea for the past 12 years.
“I can’t even count the number of people that have told me ‘no,’ ‘you can’t,’ ‘it won’t work’ and ‘people won’t eat that stuff,’” Mast says. “I’ve become tough because of what I’ve had to come up against. Do not tell me no. Do not tell me that people, from their inner core, do not want health, wellness and a connection to a healed planet, nature and community because I know that they do.”
Mast and VanderBrug have made connections with local business to furnish Trillium Haven and to spark a creative and warm ambiance.
“Herman Miller and Steelcase are two of the most world renowned companies. They are not only Michigan based companies, but West Michigan based companies. The most beautiful places in Grand Rapids highlight Herman Miller and Steelcase. Now, we are one of them,” Mast says.
Trillium Haven features seating provided by Herman Miller and intricate, curved wood hanging lights provided by Steelcase.
Creativity is a major theme in the design, food choices and staff at Trillium Haven.
“People are dying for something different and creativity is everything,” says Mast. “If we are going to try and solve the world’s problems, we have to have a sense of happiness and creativity, and fulfillment. When you have that, things just come naturally. We haven’t had to stress out about much. We are so lucky.”
Mast accepts that not everybody will understand the vision surrounding Trillium Haven but still hopes to open eyes to a healthier way of living.
“I’m not here to make everybody organic. It’s not realistic and it’s really rude. All that I want, from everybody across the board, is to eat more vegetables from Michigan farmers. It’s a very simple mission. Hopefully, we can grow more Michigan farmers in the process,” Mast says.
While business has been “insane,” Mast manages to keep calm and remember the bigger picture that she and VanderBrug set.
“There is just something so appealing about bringing the community together, supporting local farmers, eating healthy food and celebrating life," Mast says. "These values have not and will not change for us. This restaurant is not for us, it’s for the community.”
I am a senior at GVSU studying public relations and writing. I will graduate in the spring of 2013 and hope to pursue a career in PR and media relations.