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Pioneering Downtown Dining Establishment Turns 20

Bistro Bella Vita freshens up to begin third decade of providing exceptional dining experiences


Downtown Grand Rapids’ longtime premier dining establishment Bistro Bella Vita has been busy freshening up its brand in honor of its twentieth anniversary celebration that will take place Thursday, Sept. 28.

The September celebration, which will feature all-day specials, live music and giveaways, will culminate the rebranding efforts that started earlier this year and honor Bistro’s role in pioneering the local food scene in Grand Rapids. Even at the age of 20, Bistro and parent Essence Restaurant Group continue to lead the way for culinary and dining experiences in West Michigan—a promise that started the “foodie” movement in the 90s.

In addition to the 20th Anniversary event, the restaurant is also running several promotions during the time leading up to and following the celebration including:

  • 20% Off Rosé & Reserve Bottles Fridays through Sundays
  • Homemade Pasta Tasting Sundays through Tuesdays featuring 3 courses for just $26

Patrons who have visited Bistro recently may have noticed an updated logo (a crisp black-and-white mark with an emphasis on the establishment’s forename “Bistro”) in and around the restaurant, as well as updated furnishings and most importantly, revamped menu offerings.

The desire to freshen up Bistro is yet another forward-thinking move by Essence Restaurant Group leaders to help Bistro continue leading the local culinary and dining scene with exceptional dining experiences. The primary focus of the rebrand was to redefine the menu and food presentation as “Modern French & Italian Cuisine.” Second to that was to introduce the Bistro Bella Vita experience to an expanded customer base.

“Bistro has maintained strong customer support in its first two decades,” says Essence Restaurant Group Managing Partner James Berg. “Now, as we enter our 20th year, we are dedicated to introducing the Bistro experience to a new generation of diners who have a passion for exceptional dining with superior food, beverage and service.”

Since its inception in 1997, Bistro Bella Vita has regularly been recognized by patrons, media and food and restaurant reviewers as leading the way in creating exceptional dining experiences for Grand Rapids and West Michigan.

“Food first. Guests always,” says Bistro Bella Vita Head Chef Aaron Van Timmeren. “We are confident that our innovative cuisine including our housemade pastas and wine pairings will demonstrate what we mean by our promise to deliver the maximum guest experience.”

Chef Van Timmeren, his Chef de Cuisine Dan Blanchard and the full kitchen staff, along with Restaurant Manager and Sommelier Tristan Walczewski, have worked diligently this year to focus pairing the best modern French and Italian cuisine and wine.

“Our modern, refreshed look has been well-received by our regulars and new guests,” said Walczewski. “At its core, Bistro is still Bistro. We continue to prepare and present the highest-quality food and provide a memorable experience that strives to make Bistro Bella Vita the most respected restaurant destination in Grand Rapids.”

Creating exceptional experiences goes beyond the dining room and kitchen for Essence, as noted in another pioneering effort: B Corp certification.

In 2016, Essence became the first multi restaurant group in the world to become certified as a B Corp. This distinguished designation is awarded to companies that use the power of business to creatively solve social and environmental problems. In doing so, B Corp companies consistently demonstrate and meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

“Our sustainable business practices and carefully chosen locations add value to the neighborhoods in which we do business,” said Essence Restaurant Group Marketing & Sustainability Director Lauren Jaenicke. “We were on the ground floor of the local food movement in Grand Rapids and we have become the local experts for healthy, farm-to-plate food, so achieving B Corp status was the right thing to do.”

That’s a lot of accomplishment for a 20-year-old restaurant that started with owners taking a risk on a vacant downtown Grand Rapids corner just as the Van Andel Arena was being constructed.

Twenty years later, crowds still flock to the restaurant year-round—and not just on game and concert nights.