Local and loved
JW’s Food & Spirits emphasizes service, menu favorites
By Elizabeth Granger
Chris Weavers was out of college and working in Traverse City when her dad said, “Come home. Let’s buy a restaurant.”
So she did.
That was in 1994. The restaurant, The Hangar, was at Washington Avenue and Seventh Street in Grand Haven, in a building opened as a bank in 1924. Weavers’ first order of business: a new name. It became JW’s Food & Spirits, after her dad, Jerry Weavers.
“My dad and my mom were customers here,” Weavers said. As new owners, they made some changes. Actually, “great strides.” She said the business needed re-direction. Improvements. A fresh take.
“I understood customer service,” she said. “There were rough patches, but we got through it.” Sometimes there were disagreements with her dad. He died in 2007.
But the promise was there from the beginning. Business increased by 30% the first year. Since then, every single year has been better than the year before. Every year except 2020, that is.
It’s the same with the wine shop next door, which was opened in 2016. That building had been an electronics store, but Weavers had new thoughts. “I like wine,” she said. “I think I’ll start a wine shop.”
And J-Dub’s Market & Wine Shop was born. It has wines, craft beers, gourmet cheeses, charcuterie boards and chocolates made by bartender Carol Sirard, whom Weavers calls “our in-house chocolatier.”
Also, the shop sells some menu items from the restaurant, including the white chicken chili, salsa and ranch dressing.
Wine Flight Wednesday provides tastings of five different wines. The VIP Wine Club offers members a new selection every month.
Comfortable and consistent
So, what’s JW’s secret? “It’s about that, right there,” Weavers said, pointing to a sign above the bar that reads, “The ‘Cheers’ of Grand Haven.” “It’s local, it’s comfortable, it’s friendly, it’s solid and consistent,” Weavers said.
The internet, cellphones and social media have been game-changers. “I used to be Grand Haven’s best-kept secret,” Weavers said. “When people started Googling, they found me. We’re busy year-round. We’ve got tourists in the summer and locals in the winter. They exchange positions. The locals go away to their cottages or their boats, and tourists come and take their place. When the tourists go away, the locals go, ‘Wow. We’ve got our town back.’”
JW’s is big on service. “Make sure your people are doing what they need to be doing,” Weavers said. “Discipline, yes. But encouragement even more. You have to let your employees know they’re valued.”
A menu full of favorites
The white chicken chili is a huge hit. “My mom was a big white chili fan, so we tweaked some recipes and put it on the menu,” Weavers said.
A couple from California liked it so much they wrote to Bon Appétit magazine and said they’d love to have the recipe. So Bon Appétit asked JW’s for the recipe — and printed it in the magazine in 2008.
Walleye is popular, as are the bacon and smoked cheddar burger, chicken salad croissant and wet burrito.
During COVID, JW’s pivoted. The wine shop was loaded with essentials — think toilet paper and more — and the restaurant offered take-out.
Let the light shine in
These days, the restaurant is in a state of flux with construction on the outside. The biggest change? Windows. Big windows. There were no windows on the Washington Avenue side of the building, and the corner window was small-ish. Now the dining room, once dark and feeling cramped, is bright and airy. The corner window is a clear glass overhead garage door that can be opened when the weather is good.
The inside looks vastly different even though there’s been little work done there. It’s all about those windows.
Outdoor signage is yet to come. Eventually indoor work will include new flooring.
And that “Cheers” sign above the bar continues to tell it all.
JW’s Food & Spirits
6 N. Seventh St., Grand Haven