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Essence Restaurant Group focuses on "farm-to-fork," sustainability year-round

Making sustainable, locally sourced food to build a sustainable community is in the core values of Bistro Bella Vita, Grove and the Green Well.
Harrietta Hills Trout with local carrots, turnips, kohlrabi and beets.

Harrietta Hills Trout with local carrots, turnips, kohlrabi and beets. /Lauren Jaenicke/Essence Restaurant Group

Essence Restaurant Group restaurants

Bistro Bella Vita

44 Grandville Ave. SW


The Green Well

924 Cherry St. SE



919 Cherry St. SE

S & S lamb t-bone with local Brussels sprouts, beets, and kohlrabi.

S & S lamb t-bone with local Brussels sprouts, beets, and kohlrabi. /Lauren Jaenicke/Essence Restaurant Group

When it comes to local food, the Grand Rapids food community believes in sourcing food locally and being smart about the food that is used at home and in the restaurant. 

Every year during the winter, Michigan crops decrease significantly and many restaurants, when wanting to continue making the dishes that they always do, turn to importing their produce from other states and countries. 

Essence Restaurant Group, which includes Bistro Bella Vita, Grove and Green Well, tries to be different. The group’s main focus, even during the winter months, is using food sourced as locally as they can, whether it is from the Grand Rapids area or Michigan.

James Berg, the manager of Essence Restaurant Group, says that sustainability is part of their DNA.

“(It’s) not just in the food. It’s in the waste, the composting and looking at what you’re buying and where it’s going,” he says. 

During the winter months, about 45 to 50 percent of the group’s food is local. During the summer, when more is in season in Michigan, that number jumps to over 70 percent.

Berg believes that by maintaining these sustainable food practices, their restaurants will be part of building a more sustainable community as small as their neighborhood in Grand Rapids and as large as Michigan.

Essence tries to avoid importing food from other countries to use in their restaurants as much as possible, and each year they work with their suppliers to get more local product in their stores, whether it is from Cadillac or just down the street.

“It’s creating a discipline within the organization,” Berg says. “We believe Essence exists to strengthen our local food system and culture, so everything we do within the entity is trying to strengthen that culture and that food system.”

Berg keeps the farm-to-table concept going year-round by buying what is available in the local market, no matter what time of the year it is. By taking advantage of local greenhouses, the restaurants use a lot of greenhouse-grown winter vegetables, like asparagus. For Berg, being environmentally responsible and trying not to force an unnatural combination of out-of-season vegetables or frozen foods are the two most important ideas overall.

The three Essence restaurants approach farm to table in three different ways, most notably evident in how often they change their menus. Green Well is very much “farm-to-fork” and changes their menu about six to seven times per year. Grove changes their menus about three to four times per year. Bistro Bella Vita is much more year-round with their menu, rarely changing throughout the year.

Berg wants to help people in the community understand the importance of buying local, sustainably grown food. Doing so will in turn benefit and strengthen the food system in that community.

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