GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — February 1st marks a lot of different things for the hospitality industry in Michigan.
It's the first day bars and restaurants are allowed to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity since November.
For the owners of GR Noir, February 1st is two special things in one. It marks the start of Black History Month and is also their grand opening. Shatawn and Nadia Brigham have been dreaming about this place for years. The name, GR Noir, actually came to Nadia in a dream.
As the first Black couple to own a wine bar with the city's first Black sommelier, they're making their mark on Black history locally. No better day than February 1st, but they didn't plan it that way.
“We have been so busy, that the days have been running together. It literally didn’t dawn on me till last night. It’s Black History Month!" owner Nadia Brigham said.
The bar also features, of course, live jazz music. A photo of the owners' family members who have passed away sits behind the bar, so they are always with them. To the Brighams, this space and this day mean a lot.
“When we went to buy our piano, the guy said you guys have ‘some nerve’ and then he reeled it back and said 'confidence' by opening up a bar in a pandemic,” Nadia said.
“For us and our belief, our ancestors, they’ve overcome greater odds than a pandemic, created wonderful things such as jazz. While they were enslaved, they created jazz. There is no greater inspiration,” owner Shatawn Brigham said.
February 1st also just so happens to be the soonest the Brighams could open, given current limitations and restrictions on in-person dining and drinking.
Co-owner of Long Road Distillers Jon O'Connor says they can't make a profit off of 25% capacity limits.
“We’re doing the right thing. 25%…the economy at the scale that works to run a restaurant doesn’t work at 25%,” O'Connor said.
When the limitations get closer to 50% that's when Jon says they'll consider re-opening.
“I think we’re more fortunate than a lot of folks in the hospitality industry. We have takeout bottles, takeout cocktail kits,” O'Connor said.
O'Connor says he feels for other businesses that may be hurting right now. He says he hopes hospitality workers are given the option to be vaccinated first, saying the biggest setback when Long Road was open was having to shut down each time a staff member tested positive.
But still, the fixed costs to open Long Road's doors again are too high of a risk.
For the folks at GR Noir, it's only the beginning.
“It means so much. It means so much to us,” Nadia said.