ROCKFORD — Just months after rebranding its downtown Rockford location as Rockford Riverside Grille, Essence Restaurant Group has announced it will cease restaurant operations and reopen temporarily next month as an events and banquet facility.
James Berg, managing partner of the Grand Rapids-based restaurant and hospitality company that also owns Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well and Grove, said the retreat from the northern Kent County community was largely due to the overall “saturation” of the West Michigan restaurant scene.
“I think Rockford is an extension of the whole market,” Berg told MiBiz during a phone interview this morning. “It’s a saturation of restaurants coming. There’s lots of new players, especially in fast casual … We saw a nice business (in Rockford), but we didn’t see the long-term growth there.”
In the short term, Berg said the restaurant company plans to run out its lease at the space using the facility as an events and banquet facility while also working with its landlord — Rockford-based DJT Properties LLC — and a commercial real estate broker to find a new user for the space.
Essence Restaurant Group’s exploration of the Rockford dining market began in early 2017 when the company expanded its Green Well concept to the Grand Rapids suburb, as MiBiz reported at the time. Then this past April, the group decided to re-brand the restaurant as Rockford Riverside Grille. The events space will be called Rockford Riverside Grille Banquets & Events.
Ultimately, Berg said the Rockford restaurant market is more geared toward families than its urban Grand Rapids restaurants and that an ultimate retreat from the area will allow the company to refocus on its existing assets in the central business district and along the Cherry Street corridor.
“It’s family-first,” Berg said of the downtown Rockford dining scene which has been growing in recent years and includes Rockford Brewing Co., the recently reopened Corner Bar and several family-friendly sports bars and casual dining restaurants.
Diners in Rockford aren’t “looking for a night out,” Berg said.