Downtown hotel orders restaurants by celebrity chef


Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, known partly for his pizzas, is passionate about "food, wine and a great life." Photo via

A downtown hotel is planning to open two restaurant franchises by a celebrity chef.

This morning, George Aquino, VP and managing director of the Amway Hotel Collection, said work will begin in February at the Amway Grand Plaza on The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck and Wolfgang Puck Express.

The restaurants are expected to open in September.

The restaurants will replace hotel restaurants Bentham’s and Cornucopia, which are both located on the riverside of the hotel.

The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck

Aquino said The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck is a new concept and will be the first in the U.S. Another location will open in 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“What makes the kitchen special for Wolfgang Puck is we are going to try to source as many of our items locally, but still offering some signature items that have made Wolfgang Puck iconic in the United States,” Aquino said.

He said diners could expect Puck’s well-known Asian entrees and pizzas.

“The pizzas are really what put him on the map,” Aquino said.

The Bentham’s space will be completely redone to accommodate the new restaurant. A seasonal deck will be added along the side of the restaurant, overlooking the river, and there will be an outdoor event lawn.

“The whole riverfront façade of the Amway Grand is going to change,” Aquino said.

The restaurant will also have a staircase connecting it to a downstairs wine cellar that can be used for private parties.

Another update to the space is a bar, which Bentham’s does not offer.

Wolfgang Puck Express

Aquino said Wolfgang Puck Express will feature similar menu items to what’s offered at Cornucopia, such as soups, salads and sandwich offerings.

“It’s really designed for the traveler on the go,” he said.

Adding staff

Aquino said the hotel will be adding restaurant employees to staff The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck.

“The staffing will definitely be more, because we are doubling the size,” he said.

He said the hotel will be taking applications for all positions from managers to dishwashers.

Employees at Bentham’s and Cornucopia will be absorbed into the hotel’s other restaurants while the renovations are taking place.

Riverfront focus

Aquino said changes in Grand Rapids have allowed the hotel to attract the Wolfgang Puck restaurants to the hotel.

He said the Wolfgang Puck brand is very selective about where it makes franchise agreements.

He noted the river will be a focal point for The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, and the restaurants will reinvigorate the tower side of the Amway Grand Plaza, at 187 Monroe Ave. NW.

“We want a vibrant downtown, and it starts with us at the hotel to make sure the river becomes a focal point for guests traveling into town,” he said. “This will add some more life to that tower side. One of the reasons we wanted to embark on this project was to reinvigorate that side of the Amway.”

Hotel as franchisee

Aquino said sometimes franchises get a bad rap that isn’t fair.

“I think there is a misperception about franchises, that all the money goes to the franchise, but in fact, this is locally owned and operated. We employ local employees. The profits stay in Grand Rapids,” he said. “We just pay a fee for using the name.

“We are really excited about this project and to be associated with Wolfgang Puck.”

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