Mexican-Polish restaurant re-enters market


A rendering of the Mexican-Polish restaurant opening in East Grand Rapids’ Gaslight Village. Courtesy José Babushka’s

A Mexican-Polish restaurant with a history in the region is re-opening in the downtown of a Grand Rapids suburb.

It’s been almost 20 years since anyone ate at a José Babushka’s, which was once known in West Michigan for its combination of Mexican and Polish dishes.

But now, the next generation of the family that once owned the restaurant is bringing it back by opening a José Babushka’s next month in East Grand Rapids’ Gaslight Village, at 2232 Wealthy St. SE.

José Babushka’s

The 1,850-square-foot José Babushka’s will seat about 74 people inside and about 40-50 people outside.

José Babushka’s will feature a menu from chef Kyle Trieweiler and will mostly serve Mexican dishes, as well as South American and Central American dishes and some Polish dishes.

The restaurant will also feature 11 beer taps, including local craft beers, as well as mixed drinks and wines.


The restaurant plans to hire about 20-25 employees, and it will host open interviews at the restaurant on Jan. 19.

People can download a “pre-application” online.


Contractor Jason Bergsma is constructing the space, and Amy Darooge of Villa Décor in East Grand Rapids is the space’s interior designer.


José Babushka’s was originally started in 1981 and had about six locations in Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Holland, Traverse City and Petoskey, before it was eventually converted into Rio Grand Steakhouse and other restaurants in the early-to-mid 1990s, said the new restaurant’s owner, Rob Kowalewski, whose family originally owned José Babushka’s.

“At the time, my dad and uncle were seeing trends in the industry, and steakhouses were becoming more popular, so they took initiative,” Kowalewski said.


Kowalewski and his wife, Julie — who co-own and manage a Rio Grand Steakhouse in Grand Rapids, at 5501 Northland Dr. — have wanted to start a Mexican restaurant for years, particularly in East Grand Rapids.

“A lot of our friends have been asking for Mexican food, and Julie and I have been looking around thinking where we could do it,” Kowalewski said. “I wanted to do something here. This little area, Gaslight Village, is phenomenal. There’s a great sense of community.

“The reason we went with José Babushka’s is there’s a lot of history with that, and the people who grew up here remember the name. When you say the name, people smile. It’s fun and goofy.”


Kowalewski said if all goes well, the new José Babushka’s could be the start of a new restaurant venture. He would eventually like to bring more of the restaurants to the area.

“I’d love for this to be the first of many, but let’s get this one open first,” Kowalewski said. “We’d keep it in West Michigan. I don’t know where it’d be, though.” 

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