Artwork Caribbean Fusion Delicacies brings island expertise to downtown GR

GRAND RAPIDS, me. (WOOD) – A new restaurant brings a taste of the islands to downtown Grand Rapids.

A picture from July 2020 shows a Jarros de Cafe in the Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine.

Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine opened last weekend with an experience that doesn’t end on your plate. The restaurant at 55 Monroe Center NW immerses diners in Caribbean culture and features original art everywhere, including traditional hand-painted metal coffee mugs from the Dominican Republic called Jarros de Café.

“The local artists … can bring their paintings here, their art, and when customers are ready to buy them, they can do it from here. This is also an opportunity to support our local artists, ”said owner and cook Gilma DeLaCruz.

(Artist Picardo is painting a mural near the entrance to Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine in downtown Grand Rapids.)

Island music also floats through the Caribbean restaurant, which DeLaCruz says is the first of its kind in the downtown area.

“When you travel to the Caribbean, when you get to the airport, the first thing you have is music, live music. We want to be able to offer you this experience here without having to travel now, (since) that is impossible, ”she said.

ON THE MENU

DeLaCruz food made its mark on downtown Grand Rapids in September 2018 with the region’s first Caribbean food truck. Caribbean. The pandemic forced the popular food truck to shut down for about 45 days, but it is once again serving visitors to Rosa Parks Circle and other areas, now on pre-order.

DeLaCruz says requests from visitors who are in love with El Caribe’s food have moved them to expand to a place that doesn’t have to close when winter comes.

“We traveled on with the food truck and asked many customers: ‘When, where will you have a brick and mortar? When … can we find your food in one place and not move? ‘”DeLaCruz said.

Some of the foods that made El Caribe so popular are on the menu at Art Caribbean, including the Cuban sandwich with plantain chips, steak jibarito with plantains instead of bread, and empanadas made from scratch.

The menu also has some new options, including Caribbean nachos. Visitors can also order yuca fries and malanga fries.

“The Caribbean (food) is also the spice. All the flavors that we bring together in a meal … when you try it, it’s not just a mix, you have different tastes, ”said DeLaCruz. “Your taste buds can have so many explosions when you can sample Caribbean food, from spicy to sweet, and discover it all in one dish.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR

The creation of food is in DeLaCruz’s blood. Her mother runs the Rincon Criollo restaurant on Grandville Avenue near Clyde Park Avenue, and her sister-in-law is the head chef at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Her relatives inspired her to pursue a career in culinary arts and helped her start Art Caribbean, from planning the menu to preparing the room.

“We are a very strong family and we try to support each other,” she said. “So when we are open, you will see my mother… walk around here and tell me how to do things and how to open up because that’s how we are. We are a support family and we have our backs on each other. “

(Chef and owner Gilma DeLaCruz (left) stands with her family in front of her new Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine restaurant at 55 Monroe Center NW in downtown Grand Rapids.)

DeLaCruz’s restaurant combines her childhood experiences with growing up in the restaurant industry and in the Dominican Republic.

“I wanted to share that culture with Grand Rapids,” she said.

“My husband and I have always traveled to Florida (and) New York. When we go there we love the fact that we can visit so many different restaurants and have this variety. And that’s the change we wanted here in Grand Rapids. We wanted to bring this diversity and this food to the city center, ”she added.

(A July 2020 photo shows an artwork on display and available from Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine.)

CHANGE PLAN

COVID-19 delayed the opening of Art Caribbean by about three months. While DeLaCruz waited, a riot broke out downtown near her restaurant.

“I didn’t sleep at night,” she said. “My husband and I sat in bed and we thought we don’t know what will be tomorrow morning. I mean if she, if our business has been destroyed, what’s next? “

Daylight brought relief in the form of a phone call from a friend – the restaurant only had to fix its sign and clean the windows.

“My husband was able to come here and help other companies clean their windows and put up boards. And it was very amazing. The night of the riots … (was) a lot of sadness, (fear). And the next morning it was lucky to see our church come together to clean up and reopen all of these businesses, ”she said.

According to DeLaCruz, the challenges created by COVID-19 are still emerging.

“Probably one of my biggest ones right now is the food supply. Prices and food have increased. So we had to make changes to our original menu to make sure we didn’t lose money and still offer our guests authentic, high quality food, ”she said.

DeLaCruz also needed to change the dining experience by clearing seating for social distancing, using disposable menus, adding hand sanitizing stations, and using outdoor seating set up by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. for customers to take away.

(A picture dated July 2020 shows murals by an artist from the Dominican Republic on display at Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine.)

All employees wear masks. Guests are asked to do so even if they are not eating.

“We ask every guest who comes in to pay attention to the staff who are trying to provide you with an experience,” she said. “That (we) all work together to make sure we all stay healthy. That’s one of the challenges – making sure we all protect one another. “

The restaurant usually seats 50 people. Coronavirus precautions cut that in half.

“It’s day after day. I mean, we were at a point where we were wondering, “Are we going to go through this?” We thought that wasn’t going to happen. And then they decide to open that thing (outdoor seating), ”she said.

Although there have been many obstacles, DeLaCruz remains positive and determined to diversify downtown.

“There are many opportunities for us to create new things,” she said. “Grand Rapids is growing and it’s such a beautiful city that sometimes we don’t have the motivation to make changes. So … I’m here to make a difference, to change something, to be part of a community and to bring something new to everyone. “

(Artist Picardo’s painting supplies rest near a mural he spent hours creating for Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine in downtown Grand Rapids.)

Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine celebrates its grand opening on Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m.

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