Author Archives: vallien

About vallien

I'm the best cake baking ninja you know.

$20 Tuesdays at Restaurant Bloom

For those of you who have never tried Restaurant Bloom, you are missing out on a culinary gem.  When you walk down Monroe Center in Grand Rapids, you may have looked into the window of the former Cafe Solace window and thought, “Wow, that place looks like it would be expensive.”  But on Tuesdays, you get a three course taste of culinary at its best for a mere $20.  

My friend Kimberly and I went today for an early dinner and here is what we had…

Deviled Eggs

A Trio of Deviled Eggs: Classic, Smoked Paprika, and Scallion. (The scallion was my favorite!)


Roasted bass, braised cabbage, potato, and lemon vinaigrette. (The braised cabbage was amazing!)

Panna Cotta

“Hard boiled egg” panna cotta (Vanilla Panna Cotta with what I think was a frozen apricot mousse center) with toasted coconut and apricot.  The crunch of the toasted coconut, the chew of the dried apricot, the creamyness of the panna cotta and the cold of the apricot mousse all mixed in your mouth for an incredible bite. That was my dessert. Kimberly’s dessert was…

carrot cake

Carrot Cake with a Sweet Pea Ice Cream and Cream Cheese Icing.  The Sweet Pea ice cream really tastes like peas!  You would never have thought to pair it with the carrot cake, but it mixes with the cake and the icing and really balances out the denseness and adds its own layer of flavor.

Everything was amazing, the food, the experience over all, it was a nice escape from the real world.  I left completely stuffed and in a happy daze.  I would highly recommend you try it.  Every week the menu is different and you can sign up to receive the new menu by email.

Visit their website by clicking here.

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3 Awesome Things to Do This Weekend in Grand Rapids

Getting in a slump because winter just won’t quit?  Spending a lot of time at home watching TV and eating pizza?  Why don’t you spice things up and do something fun this weekend?  Here are three events that are top on my list:


1. Kids at Heart – The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is throwing a fundraising event for adults only.  Have a blue martini while playing the pvc pipes Blue Man style!  Hit up the pasta bar and get your fortune told.  Have a cheesecake pop while watching the magician! Check out an exclusive showing of the Secret Art of Dr. Seuss.  All the while feeling good about yourself because the money goes to keeping the museum open for the kids.  Come on, its all about the kids.

2. Awesome 80s Prom

– From the NY show’s websiteThe Awesome 80s Prom is a blast-from-the-past party in the style of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and The Donkey Show set at Wanaget High’s Senior Prom… in 1989!  All your favorite characters from your favorite ’80s movies are at THE PROM, from the Captain of the Football Team to the Asian Exchange Student, from the Geek to the hottie Head Cheerleader, and they’re all competing for Prom King and Queen. And just like on “American Idol”, the audience decides who wins, all while moonwalking to retro hits like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go!”  Come “Back In Time”, to quote a Huey Lewis tune, and join the breakdance circle or just sit back and watch the ’80s drama unfold.  Come on, you know you have a Members Only jacket somewhere… and if you’re lucky, you’ll even get to dance with The Captain of the Football Team.

3. Women’s Expo – From the informational website: Bigger and better than ever, Women’s Expo will feature more than 400 booths, seminars and presentations on two stages during its three-day run atDeVos Place. Last year, more than 15,000 attended Expo, making it the largest single consumer event in the region for women. From shopping to sampling new foods to talking with physicians and other professionals, Women’s Expo gives attendees access to a broad range of products, services and presentations under a single roof.  The event will showcase old favorites – from on-site massages to cooking demonstrations – along with new offerings – including golf lessons from local pro Patti Butcher to artwork from nationally renowned artist Paul Collins – to create the popular annual event, which has come to be known as “spring break for women.”

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All You Can Drink Wine & All The Truffles You Can Eat!!

This past friday was Baker College’s Cheers and Chocolates event.  A fundraiser benefiting Every Woman’s Place, a help center for women and children.  For $40 you got into the event where there was a silent auction, raffles, appetizers, over 50 wines to try, a beer tasting room, and lots of truffles and mini desserts.  The event not only helped raise money for Every Woman’s Place, it was also a venue to showcase the work of the students of Baker College’s culinary and pastry programs; and showcase they did!  Being a culinary school graduate myself (Pastry from JWU), I don’t get blown away by desserts very easily, but I couldn’t get over how beautiful all of the desserts were at the event. In September of 2009, they will be opening The Culinary Institute of Michigan and it is going to give all US culinary schools a healthy dose of competition, based on what the students turned out for the event.  I am really looking forward to seeing it grow in the coming years.

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Jeff Lobdell’s Secret to Success

Don’t recognize his name?  Jeff Lobdell is the owner of Grand Rapids gems like The Omelette Shoppe, Bagel Beanery, Beltline Bar, and Sundance Grill.  Yes, pretty much the only places in GR that I go for breakfast; and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  He is now involved in 14 different restaurants and gets calls all the time with offers for more.  He was born in Flint, MI, but grew up among the cherries of Traverse City.  His dad was in the fast food franchising business, so you could say he was born to own a restaurant.  His first taste was a job working as a busboy, which he said, “hooked me on the restaurant industry.”  That lead him to major in Hotel Restaurant & Institutional Management at Michigan State.  After that he worked at Cooker Bar & Grill, helping them open a couple restaurants.

Nugget of wisdom #1 for future entrepreneurs: “Work for someone else right out of school, so you can make mistakes with someone else’s money.”

In 1996, he decided to go out on his own and start his own business.  He started the Bagel Beanery (on Michigan St) from what used to be an abandoned gas station.  A couple years into owning the business, he found that starting a business from scratch was a lot harder than he thought.

Nugget of wisdom #2: Jeff recommends you buy an existing business if you can, rather than starting one from scratch.  This has been where most of his success came from.  One reason is that banks are more apt to lend money to a business with history.

In 2002, Jeff bought Beltline Bar, the owner was 63 and wanted to retire.  

Nugget of wisdom #3: Networking is key.  Jeff is a member of the Michigan Restaurant Association and has met a lot of his contacts in the industry though the organization.  That is how he heard about the Beltline Bar.

So. moving forward t0 2004,  Jeff bought The Omelette Shop, which started in Traverse City.  Now there are four; two in Traverse and two in Grand Rapids.  He also bought both Sundance Grills, Boone’s Prime Time Pub, and more recently Forest Hills Inn, bringing his total to 14.  Now we have come full circle.  Here are some final parting nuggets of wisdom from Jeff.

Nugget of wisdom #4: Jeff thinks coupons devalue your product, making it a place where people only go because they have a coupon.

Nugget of wisdom #5: “People who try to hold the reigns of the business too tightly do not allow it to grow.”

Nugget of wisdom #6: The hardest part about starting a business is cash flow management.  You will inevitably go over budget and you have to be ready for it.  A lot of restaurants stop paying their payroll taxes when money gets tight and go under when they are hit with the fines.

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3 Sure Fire Ways to Become More Awesome!

  1. Become Laura Bergells.
  2. If your scheme to achieve #1 fails, then Become Laura’s new BFF.
  3. If #2 fails or seems too hard, then find out when she is presenting in your area and go.  Soak up her awesomeness by proximity.

I had the chance to do #3 today and left the room feeling way more awesome than when I went in.  How many of us need to make presentations and dread it?  How many of us have sat through terrible presentations where the speaker gets up there and reads slides to us in a monotone?

All Laura wants is for your presentations to rock.  Her presentation in my Senior Entrepreneurship class today was about how to take your presentations (in our case for a business plan competition) from the 1980s to the 2009s. As she mentioned the techniques that were from the 80s that people still employ today, I kept thinking back to my own presentations.  How many of us have bullet points with key sentences from the speech we’ve memorized on the screen?  How many of us use cheesy clip art and crazy fonts to jazz up our slides?

Her challenge to us:  Try to make an entire presentation with NO BULLET POINTS.  Sounds crazy right?  The key point she made was that simplicity is the name of the game in 2009.  People can’t process what they are seeing and what they are hearing at the same time.  So try to keep your slide to a few key words and a few pictures (NOT CLIP ART) that get your point across quickly.

Want to learn more about how to make more dynamic presentations?  Visit her blog:

Just another craicadelicious insight into the people that make Grand Rapids rock!


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Give your Honey, a Honey Wheat for Valentines Day

I recently had the pleasure of taking a tour of Founder’s Brewery.  First of all, I love Founder’s beer.  If you have never had it, go to the grocery store (or if you live near Grand Rapids, MI go to Founder’s) and buy some.  I really like their Honey Wheat and I never say no to a pitcher of their Pale Ale.

Founder’s was founded by Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers and opened its first location in the Brassworks Building (on Monroe Ave) in 1997.  The two met at Hope College and at the time there was only one brewery in Michigan: Bell’s.  They both loved home brewing and finally decided that it was time to start doing what they love. 

Dave was the one who gave the tour and mentioned that his Mom taught cooking lessons while he was growing up, so he had always been in the kitchen with her.  He says that the kitchen work really gave him the base of how to work with flavors that he now uses in making beer.

Along with building a brewery, they added a Tap Room, which kept them afloat for a long time.  But finally they said, “we need to do something different.”  So they completely revised their business objective to “Its all about the liquid.”

They also started focusing on more unique beer styles, for example Scotch Ales, to entice new segments of the market.  When they introduced their now popular Dirty Bastard to their investors, they were told “No way, you can’t sell that, its offensive!”, so they sent it to a beer competition and won 1st place in the Scotch Ale category.  “We figure, either you fly or you fall and die.  We’re gonna go down on our own terms.” Now, Founder’s is the 7th highest rated Brewery in the World and the 3rd highest rated brewery in America.

It doesn’t look like they are going to fall and die any time soon.  Just less than a year ago, they moved to a new, larger location on Grandville Ave.  “We had to move because we couldn’t fill all of the orders, we were only filling 50%.”  Even with the new building they said that they aren’t filling 100% of the orders.  Is an expansion in the workings? “Hell Yes!”


So, to sum up, Founder’s Brewery is growing  by following the best business objective I can think of: by putting their product’s quality first.  I highly recommend you try what they’ve been brewing.

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Chili and Wine

Valerie here. Last Saturday was Fenn Valley’s 10th Annual Chili Cook-off/ Wine Lovers Potluck.  Our own JR was competing, so Britt and I hit up map quest and decided who’s yellow bug we were going to take on our delicious adventure. (Yes, we both own yellow ’99 VW bugs, weird right?).  The only entrance fee was an appetizer.  I felt like we were planning to go to a family bbq.  We brainstormed on what would be a good accompaniment to chili and settled on a nice bread plate with dipping oil.  When we got there it was jam packed with cars, we had to park on the side of the road because not only was their parking lot full but the parking lot across the street too!

Fenn Valley Fenn Valley 2

When we went in you could feel the excitement in the room, everyone looked warm and happy and were all sitting around eating from… wait… why does everyone have empty muffin tins?  A nice couple in line behind us told us that it makes it easier to try multiple chilis without having to carry around a bunch of little cups.  What a great idea!  If only someone had told us.  The lines were crazy, you weren’t sure which line you were in and when you got to the table it was a free for all.  If you saw a chili on the other side of the table that looked good you just went for it.  People were even hopping over from the table next to us!  Suddenly we were all chili experts, “That one has too many beans.” “This one used too much smoke.” “When I make chili, I like to make a roux first to thicken it.”  Britt and I grabbed three chilis each and fled the tables.

chili line

We walked around the corner thinking we’d see a table to sit at and instead found more tables laden with food.  Of course, the appetizers!  But even better was the first table we saw on the side, it was full of empty plastic containers, perfect for a makeshift tray.  Britt and I equipped ourselves and were ready to see what the other people brought.  There was a hundred different types of cheese balls, crackers, cornbread, a few gems here and there, “Cheesecake?!” “Eclairs?!” and a few suspicious items, “What’s that hot pink cheeseball with the green sprinkles?” (turned out to be icing, strawberry jam, and cream cheese…).  The “cheesecake” also turned out to be cream cheese, cheddar cheese and raspberry preserves… I certainly give them points for creativity.

chili tray

Anyways, it was finally time for the tasting.  I never order chili at restaurants, but I must say, there were some that I wished I’d remembered which crock pot it came from.  Of course we didn’t forget JR’s chili, he entered the “white chili” category.  When he said “be careful, it’s spicy” I thought he was warning us because we were a couple of girls and he didn’t think we could handle it, but he wasn’t joking.  Definitely the spiciest chili that I tried at the cook-off, but come on, we don’t eat chili for the beans.  Chili is all about that spice that makes your nose run, and it did!  I remember saying to Britt, “I know it sets my mouth on fire, but I can’t stop eating it!”


But wait!  What about the wine?

wine racks wine tasting

Down in the wine cellar, where the cook-off was held, wine was sold by the glass but they only took cash so Britt and I went upstairs to the wine tasting bar.  You got to choose up to 5 wines to taste for free!  It was great!  I tried:

  • Blanc de blanc – a dry sparkling wine, really good. Not too dry, I base my sparkling wine on the criteria “would I drink a full glass of this and want more?” and I would.
  • Capriccio – a mildly dry red.  It was ok, but not my favorite wine. I did like it better than the Meritage though.
  • Meritage 2006 – a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.  I like cabernet sauvignons but I didn’t really care for this blend.
  • Lakeshore Sunset – their version of a White Zin, fruity and semi-dry.  A nice cheap sipping wine.  I actually bought a bottle of this one.
  • Cherry Wine – I almost bought a bottle of this too, but saved it for next time.  Seriously, reminds you of cherry pie, without being too jammy.  I’m not a fan of jammy wines, but this had a strong cherry flavor without seeming syrupy.

All in all I’d say a successful Chili Cook Off/ Wine Lover’s Potluck.  I can’t wait for next year!  I’m bringing a 12 cup muffin tin!

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