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'Overwhelmed, understaffed, but we persevered': Restaurants get creative as crowds head to ArtPrize 2021

ArtPrize 2021 runs from September 16 through October 3 in and around Downtown Grand Rapids
ArtPrize 2021 Restaurants Customers
Posted at 5:07 PM, Sep 21, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Crowds blanketed the downtown area this past weekend for the first few days of ArtPrize 2021. The event has lured large crowds back to restaurants and shops in the area that have suffered over the past year and change due to the pandemic, and related health restrictions.

“We were overwhelmed, understaffed, but we persevered,” Ben Penrod, co-owner of Flanagan's Irish Pub, told FOX 17 Monday afternoon.

The sentiment rang like a mantra for business owners throughout the downtown area— getting creative with whatever resources they have.

“It was almost like people would be dropped off on buses and they come barreling in," said Susan Perry, store manager at Old World Olive Company.

"But, we handled it, and that was great.”

Despite issues with staffing, as in, businesses just can't seem to hire enough people right now, restaurants in downtown Grand Rapids are getting creative to make the most of the crowds that ArtPrize draws in.

“My wife and I, we've only owned this for a little over 2 years,” said Ben Penrod, who purchased Flanagan's Irish Pub with his wife just months before COVID hit.

"So, we missed ArtPrize, we missed St. Patrick's Day the first year, which are basically our bread-and-butter-days."

Flanagan's had a wild weekend of customers, managing just fine, even with 3 employees not able to show up for their shifts. They have welcomed John Wiederhold and his Outlaw Barbecue and Sauces to partner up with the restaurant, expanding their menu and resources.

“We were pretty swamped yesterday, but it was really cool, you know, to be able to see something that I've really put my heart and soul into, take fruition and really just kind of skyrocket,” Wiederhold said Monday.

He moved to Grand Rapids back in 2013 before falling into addiction and struggles with the law. He would eventually get clean, find a relationship with God and move to El Paso, Texas, where he would start his business.

This week Wiederhold is back in West Michigan, helping serve the crowds, and sharing his smoky creations.

“It's been a lovely experience, for me being able to come back in a different point in my life, and just see how much it's changed and allow people to see... no matter where you come from... with a little bit of hard work and faith, you'd be really surprised at how far you'll come,” he told FOX 17.

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