HOWARD CITY — Ever since a trio of lifelong friends announced they were opening a new restaurant in Howard City, the community has been eagerly waiting for that day to arrive.
Today is that day.
The Forager at 101 E. Edgerton St. opened its doors for business today.
Brian Papke of Ada, Kyle Pierce of Grand Rapids and Bryan Korytkowski of Rockford purchased the former Latitudes Roadhouse & Steelhead Tavern in the summer of 2017 when that restaurant went out of business after 14 years. The trio, of all whom graduated from Northview High School, announced their plans to open a new restaurant in April 2018 featuring “forest to table, Great Lakes, bold comfort cuisine.” However, the process took longer than they expected.
“Overall, it has been a long road,” Papke admitted. “To be honest, we have taken our time on the renovation and concept, really because we are new to the business and want to build a legacy place that will stand the test of time. Also, we love the idea of creating the new centerpiece and center of activity in this small town community.”
The building’s history is much of its charm. The two-story brick structure formerly housed the Coburn Exchange in 1873 and The Golden Hotel in 1903 when a train ran through town during the village’s heyday.
Today, the renovated restaurant is literally a clean slate — a fresh white exterior with black trim punctuated by red umbrellas on black sidewalk tables and chairs. Inside, white walls are complemented by rustic decor in a nod to Michigan’s forestry and hunting resources.
The new owners looked to honor the building’s history in multiple ways, such as decorating the dining area with historic photographs of the village. Signature drinks boast fun localized names, including The Old Hotel Punch, the Montcalm Mule (served in a classic copper mug), The White Pine Trail Margarita (named after the trail running through the village) and Exit 118 (Howard City’s off-ramp on the U.S. 131 expressway).
The Forager’s name itself is its mission — to utilize as many local, seasonal ingredients as possible — from steaks hand-cut by Berghorst Farms in Fremont to cheese from local Amish cheesemakers and, of course, lots of Michigan craft beers. Michigan fish play a major role on the menu as well, from smoked whitefish crostini appetizers to entrees of bluegill, trout and walleye.
“The Forager concept is central to keeping as many local food sources, and then drawing our meal inspiration from what we find,” Papke said. “We have treated our restaurant concept as a brand, rather than a one-off restaurant, making sure we are unique, memorable, and have an underlying philosophy that informs our decision making all along the way.”
Executive Chef Timothy Carpenter has learned under many teachers in the industry, working at the 1913 Room, Cygnus 27 and “all over the BOB,” among many other Grand Rapids restaurants. He even worked several stints at Latitudes back in the day. He’s happy to be back and is excited about the new owners’ approach to food.
“They want to use as many products as we can find from all over Michigan,” Carpenter said. “They’re homey-type meals, but they’re the upper echelon of casual fine dining, but without the cost.
“My real paycheck is seeing the empty plates come back,” he added.
Customers will see another familiar face when dining at The Forager. Bryan DeHart, who worked as a bartender, cook manager and more at Latitudes starting in 2003, has returned as general manager.
“I decided to come home,” DeHart said. “It’s cool because I live right down the road. I care about the community and being open 30 years from now.”
Starting today, The Forager will be open for dinner every day except Mondays, with extended hours and meals to come. For more information, call The Forager at (231) 648-6052, visit the-forager.com online or search for “The Forager” on Facebook.