Partnership with Zeeland's oldest restaurant brings new eatery

A new restaurant has sprung up in downtown Zeeland, and “it all kind of came out of COVID,” says Zeeland Marketing Director Abby deRoo.

Two Zeeland mainstays — Frank’s and The Farmhouse — have joined forces on the new hybrid venture directly east of Frank’s and aptly nicknamed “Frank’s East.”

The Farmhouse needed space to socially distance dinner guests, and Frank’s had a banquet facility to the east of the diner that was sitting unused. Sharing space and staff has allowed both the Farmhouse and Frank’s to thrive despite the trials of the pandemic.

Teresa VanderZwaag, owner of The Farmhouse, didn’t know Frank’s owner Shane Hammer, but she took a chance and asked to use the facility. Hammer was happy to help another local restauranter. Through this gesture, not only a partnership, but a friendship formed.

Teamwork

As COVID restrictions eased, reopening Frank’s took teamwork. Hammer needed staff, so VanderZwaag stepped in, and together they brought back the legendary Frank’s lunch hour, six days a  week.

Through the hours logged manning the grill at Frank’s (at 134 E. Main Ave.)  and sharing the neighboring banquet facility at 136 E. Main Ave. VanderZwaag and Hammer started dreaming up a  permanent and more robust use for that space. 

“They realized, ‘hey, we could help each other out in more ways here.’ Ideas started blossoming,” deRoo says.

VanderZwaag purchased the liquor license from outgoing Zeeland restaurant, The Elbo Room, began the process to have it transferred to 136 E. Main Ave.,  and together, VanderZwaag and Hammer plotted how the building east of the original Frank’s Restaurant could become its  own business. 

Regrowth

The closing of Public and Elbo Room restaurants left a void in downtown Zeeland. City officials are happy the liquor license will stay downtown, deRoo says.

“It will contribute to the regrowing of our food scene,” she says.

Frank’s Restaurant in the heart of downtown Zeeland has been a local landmark for 98 years. Four generations of the Dionise family have run the old fashioned diner famous for its burgers and hot dogs as well as its classic decor and soda fountain counter. In 2008, Hammer, great grandson of the original founders, began sharing the responsibility of running the family business. 

The Farmhouse, a few blocks to the west, quickly became a local favorite since its opening in 2013.

Slow rollout

The original Frank’s and the new restaurant, currently nicknamed Frank’s East, will have different names  and different addresses, but they will also have some things in common. The new business will be physically connected to Frank’s, as the buildings share restrooms and a hallway. The two businesses will also share  the original Frank’s kitchen. 

For this reason, at least initially, the two businesses will not be open at the same time. Although  the two restaurants will have a lot in common, only the new business will serve alcohol. 

VanderZwaag will be responsible for owning and operating the new business, and since the two have  proven they make a good team, VanderZwaag will also continue to partner with Hammer at Frank’s,  indefinitely. 

Existing banquet reservations for the space now known as Frank’s East will be honored.

For this reason, VanderZwaag’s new business will open with a phased approach,  limited hours and a movable bar and furniture.

Future phases

Future phases include a more complete build-out with permanent fixtures and well established business hours. The grand opening for VanderZwaag’s new business has not yet been  announced but she hopes to have doors open by spring or early summer.  

VanderZwaag will  also continue to own the Farmhouse, four blocks down, on West Main Avenue. 

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.