In the early to mid 20th century, Ramona Park graced the shores of Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. An entertainment hot spot, the amusement park featured roller coasters and a theater that attracted famous Vaudeville acts and huge audiences.
Jackie Ziehm and Charlie Palm pay homage to this bygone era by operating Ramona’s Table - a farm-to-table restaurant located at 2232 Wealthy Street in East Grand Rapids. A husband-and-wife team of restaurateurs with over 15 years of experience, they researched the history of their potential restaurant location at the Grand Rapids Public Library.
“I love the name Ramona,” Jackie said. “It was historical. It was perfect.”
But how did Jackie and Charlie -- two self-described “corporate rats from the automotive industry” -- come to open their Gaslight Village restaurant three years ago?
Jackie said that she and her husband “traveled a lot and worked really hard” in the 1990’s. As automotive specialty chemicals salespeople, they had no background in the restaurant business — but they both loved food.
“At one point, we made a decision,” said Jackie. “If we’re working this hard, we should do something for ourselves rather than for everybody else.”
Armed with strong business acumen, a creative flair, and a love of food; the dynamic couple ventured into the restaurant business.
“We owned a chain before this, but found out pretty quickly we weren’t chain people.” said Jackie. “We didn’t agree with how they did things. We didn’t think the quality was what it needed to be. So we decided we were going to do it the way we thought it should be done.”
The location of Ramona’s Table was the couple’s dream location. They loved the East Grand Rapids community and the pedestrian traffic of Gaslight Village.
“We actually looked at this spot and it was out of our reach,” said Jackie. “When it went into foreclosure, we were able to afford it. For us, it was a dream location.”
It’s little wonder that the East Grand Rapids community has embraced Ramona’s Table since it opened. Researching a historically relevant name was only a first step for the Ziehms. Their continuing respect for the local area appears to be a common theme in the way the Ziehm’s operate their growing business.
A farm-to-table restaurant that offers catering and serves private parties, Ramona’s Table uses as much fresh, local produce as possible to create a variety of bold sandwiches, wraps, salads, appetizers, entrees, and more. The recently expanded restaurant and deli seats 52, and offers alfresco dining on the patio in the warmer months. The majority of patrons hail from East Grand Rapids, but Ramona’s Table is also becoming a destination restaurant for out-of-towners who appreciate the their local yet adventurous approach to food.
“We have a gentleman who lives in Detroit, actually, who comes to our business,” said Jackie Ziehm. “And every time he comes to this side of the state he comes in to buy carrot cake. He’s probably the person who travels the furthest.”
When it comes to engaging the palette of the local community, education is key. The couple feels passionate about broadening culinary horizons and introducing the community to different tastes and flavor profiles.
You might see unfamiliar ingredients on the restaurant menu. Wheatberry. Quinoa. Jicama. Farro. Daikon radishes. Ox tail. Endive...
“We use ingredients that many of our customers have never seen before,” said Ziehm. “And we tell them ‘taste this!’ Tell us what you think!”
They shared their enthusiasm for the future of the business.
“We really want to have a garden and do it as a community outreach with the school. We can’t say we have all the details worked out, but it’s certainly something we’d like to do.”
Further, Ramona’s Table plans to offer a more upscale meal delivery program. Customers can call ahead to get a baked from scratch meal. Home cooked meals-to-go include favorites like braised short ribs, pot roasts, and lasagnas.
They recently hired creative local food phenom Aaron Burrows as their head chef. Locally, Burrows has developed a following among those devoted to creativity, sustainability, and locavorism. They found Burrows through a FarmLink inquiry — they wanted to find a chef who felt passionate about sourcing local food — including protein and produce.
Burrows was the man. Formerly with Salt of the Earth in Fennville and Graydon’s Crossing in Grand Rapids, Burrows brings his passion for sustainable living to Ramona’s Table. He readily admits that he is “stoked” about local gardening, composting, and keeping revenue in the local community. He hopes to share his knowledge with elementary school children.
“Just talking about this stuff gives me goosebumps,” he said.
Burrows acknowledges that his bosses are great about creative collaboration in the kitchen. “The meals to go thing? Yeah, that’s going to be all my stuff on there.”
“We just did a party for 200 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. We did endive salad spears as one of cold appetizers,” Burrows said. Lamb pops, butternut squash ravioli, chipotle BBQ meat balls, and red grapes wrapped in goat cheese and crushed pistachios were just some of the other delectable menu items at the event.
Ramona's Table also recently catered the Grand Opening for M-Live's new offices.
While the restaurant is come-as-you-are casual, the catering and food choices are uniquely sumptuous. If you eat with your eyes before you bring the food to your lips, the cozy ambiance and remarkable creativity displayed at Ramona’s Table will win you over with its simple elegance and passion for boldly adventurous local food choices.
Ramona's Table is open Monday - Saturday from 8 AM - 8 PM.
Be sure to visit Ramona's Table's website: ramonastable.com
For daily specials and to up-to-date news, LIKE Ramona's Table's Facebook page: facebook.com/RamonasTable
Contributing writer: Laura Bergells
Contributing photographers: Tim Motley/Katy Batdorff
Video: Michael Cook