While on the journey in Grand Rapids at Wake Up Weekend, we encountered a very interesting entrepreneur and his incredibly delicious restaurant. There were many grand aspects to what is happening at this tiny little diner in a tiny little town in a tiny corner of western Michigan. So today, I’m going to introduce you to a taste of Bartertown, a place that deserves a purposeful visit if you are anywhere near Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Bartertown is a new restaurant in downtown, less than a year old and already making an impact on the community. Owner Ryan Capalletti can be found in the front of the house, cooking in the open kitchen area or busing tables, like many small business owners. But, his vision is much more than what meets the eye.
He is committed to preparing delicious, plant-based foods for his customers, sharing his philosophy about a compassionate way to eat, in addition to its healthful benefits. This is still a novelty in our patch of the world, as we are seldom able to eat in a restaurant where we can choose from anything on the menu and it is vegan. Add to that another commitment to use primarily locally sourced foods in the restaurant, everything you touch is from Michigan. That’s sustainability in a way that many aspire to, but few offer. From the locally brewed root beer to the sugar on the table, to the 30 varieties of hot sauces, everything is from Michigan.
Quick to point out that Michigan is a leading food provider of so many
unsuspecting veggies, black beans, many beans in fact, potatoes, cherries, squash, apples, asparagus and the list goes on, that Bartertown believes that the best food is found right here locally. In the winter months especially, this requires creativity in the kitchen, kind of like an episode of Iron Chef every day. To quote Ryan, “I’m opening the restaurant tomorrow morning and I have no idea what the menu will be. It will depend on what the farmers bring in”. We dined there that next day and I can tell you with certainty that the mashed chick pea melt and focaccia sliders were sensational. They can run out of food as the day progresses, depending on the supply that comes in each morning. So,
if you have a favorite, you want to get to the lunch table early. Don’t forget to order one of Roc’s Cupcakes or cookies while you are there, they are baked goods that will love you back. See Bartertown’s regular menu here, knowing that many items change daily.
That was a quick tour of the food reasons why we liked Bartertown. Here are a few other reasons that push them into superstar status. They recycle everything, and we mean everything. From the bar, constructed entirely of recycled materials to every scrap of food and biodegradable products being composted; to plastics that find a recycling home in a partnership from another company called TreeHuggers. Learn about Tree Huggers here. They are a local recycling center open to the public and also are a retailer of haute couture recycled goods. This is such a focal point of their stewardship of our planet, that this restaurant typically tosses out one solitary bag of garbage per week. Amazing. Kudos to the team at Bartertown.
Here is the final message that is such a forward thinking proposition that we are still scratching our heads. Ryan started this business but his model is rather astounding. The operational philosophy is that each employee can work anywhere in the restaurant, tips are shared equally throughout the team and mostly, this is the catch, everyone is an owner; being vested with shares in the restaurant as part of the compensation. Ryan started with the most shares, but in short order (no pun intended), he will be an equal partner with everyone else working in the restaurant. He believes this shared ownership is their best avenue for long term success, keeping everyone a part of the whole entity and making it better together.
Just stop the madness right there. We are so intrigued with this model and how it will work, that we promise to keep an eye on Bartertown and tell you how they are doing periodically. Then again, if you are in the Grand Rapids neighborhood some time, stop in and visit them for a meal, have a look and let us know how you think they are doing.
Have a delicious day.