Beloved Public restaurant comes home to Zeeland

After a three-year absence, regional foodie favorite, Public, is home.

Known for its upscale comfort food, Public is reopening its doors on Zeeland's Main Avenue today.

“The cool thing is I kinda got to strip everything down to its roots,” says owner and chef Lucas Grill.

Changing a beloved restaurant is difficult. If it’s too different, people will miss the old Public. If it’s too much like the original, they’ll think it’s dated, Grill says.

“You have to thread this needle,” he says. “It’s still Public, but it’s better than ever — refreshed, rebranded, and renewed, but it’s still Public in its soul.”

Favorites such as the angels on horseback appetizer and parmesan chicken cutlets will still be on the menu, but with little tweaks and updates, Grill says. The restaurant will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 4 to 9 p.m. Saturdays.

“I’m a much better restaurateur, a much better chef at 41 than I was at 28,” he says.

Grill graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He was 28 when he opened Public, his debut restaurant, in 2012.

Photo by Andrea Goodell“The cool thing (about reopening Public restaurant) is I kinda got to strip everything down to its roots,” says owner and chef Lucas Grill.

Photo by Andrea GoodellAfter a three-year absence, Public will re-open its doors in downtown Zeeland.

Remaining optimistic

The original Public restaurant sat in the same location at 131 E. Main Ave. but closed in 2021 after the building’s owner wanted to expand his dental practice into the space where Public sat.

“It was very emotional for me,” Grill says. “It was very hard for me not to be able to send off Public on my own terms.”

However, the city denied the special land use permit required for the expansion. Since then, Grill found investors willing to buy the building Public had once called home as well as the neighboring building.

City officials and Grill, both, remained optimistic that Public would someday reopen on Main Avenue. 

“We are beyond thrilled for Public’s homecoming!” says Zeeland City Marketing Director Abby deRoo. “While we have certainly missed its presence over the last few years, we are so excited to welcome Public back to an even better version of downtown Zeeland!” 

The soul

On the heels of his initial success with Public, Grill opened 76 in downtown Holland in 2017. Two years later, he opened two more restaurants on Eighth Street — Poquito and Obstacle No. 1.

“Public is the soul of my company,” Grill says. “If it weren’t for Public, I wouldn’t have my other restaurants.”

A lot has happened since Public was forced to close its doors in 2021. The former Sligh Furniture Co. building has been redeveloped into Sligh Apartments and Townhouses (opening early July), Community Restaurant has been rebuilt and reopened, a downtown snowmelt system is being installed under the Main Avenue sidewalks, the building which included Public’s site has been reimagined for expanded business development to suit Public and Moxy Dental (131 and 133 ½ E. Main Ave.), the neighboring building (135/137 E. Main Ave.) has been replaced with framing for a three-story mixed-use development and pedestrian passageway and another three-story mixed-use development will soon break ground at the corner of State and Main. 

Photo by Andrea GoodellNextdoor to the newly reopened Public has been replaced with framing for a three-story mixed-use development and pedestrian passageway.

By the middle of the summer, Zeeland’s Social District will be bustling with six liquor licenses. In addition to the opening of Public, this summer, the City of Zeeland is also preparing for the opening of The Gritzmaker Social House at 120 E. Main Ave. 

By the end of the year, the city’s downtown will have almost 100 new residential units, three new/newly reopened restaurants, four blocks of brand-new snowmelted streetscape, and a custom mural at the corner of Main Avenue and Church Street.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.