The “Local Eatery,” which is located at the former location of the Palace Cafe, will open its doors for business toward the end of September.
This past May, Jason Walters and his wife, Dena Walters, purchased the former Palace Cafe. Since then, they have been renovating the restaurant.
The Walters said they felt inspired to purchase the space because of its history.
“My grandparents used to own this,” Jason Walters said. “My grandpa built the booths that were in here, so there was some connection. My dad has been here the most and even worked here as a child. My aunt and uncle also owned it. My wife and I wanted to do something together and we are now third-generation owners.”
Jason and Dena Walters will comanage the restaurant. The Local Eatery was initially scheduled to open during the summer, but the Walters hit an obstacle they couldn’t have predicted.
“It would have been done a lot sooner, but the day after we closed on this, we found out that my wife had a brain tumor,” Jason Walters said. “We ended up pushing pause and were taking care of that for two to three months.”
The couple makes for an ideal team, combining Dena Walter’s bachelor’s degree in business and experience from working in the food industry with Jason Walter’s entrepreneurial spirit. They received a $10,000 grant to open the Local Eatery as part of Tax Increment Finance Authority’s goal to improve business development downtown.
“The money from TIFA can be used for anything that cannot be moved,” Jason Walters said. “It has to be a permanent part of the restaurant. That includes the wall coverings, paint, light fixtures, these booths that will be pinned down, the breakfast bar, the bathroom, and the flooring. All the stuff that you see that cannot be picked up and moved was eligible to be reimbursed by TIFA.”
Hillsdale Zoning Administrator Alan Beeker said the Walters received an attraction grant, which is a three-year forgivable loan.
“If they stay in business for three years, it is essentially a grant, it’s just forgiven,” Beeker said. “And if they go out of business in those three years, then they have to pay back a prorated rate.”
The Local Eatery has the potential of becoming the new hot spot of the Hillsdale community. “My hopes and plans for this community are that the people are proud of this place because it is kind of a staple for the downtown and I want them to like it,” Jason Walters said. “I will make sure that we are sponsoring things, being a part of things, and participating in the local community.”
The Local Eatery will be opening with a limited menu, including three specialties and common diner staples. In the future, the menu will continue to offer typical items served at a diner but will also incorporate some specialty items, including chicken and waffles, baked oatmeal, rum custard French toast, and grilled cheese hot dogs.
Jason Walters said customers can expect a great overall experience at the Local Eatery.
“We have updated a lot of the supplies and quality of the food,” Jason Walters said.
As of right now, the restaurant will not be continuing the late nights made famous by the former Palace Cafe, but Jason Walters said they may consider implementing them at a later date, because of their popularity.
Hillsdale College Professor of Mathematics Kevin Gerstle said he’s excited for the grand opening.
“I’m curious to see what the new owners are planning on doing with the business and definitely plan on checking it out,” Gerstle said.
The Walters said they believe the nature of the restaurant will attract college students.
“The Local Eatery will be a modern-looking place with an energetic, friendly staff and good food at reasonable prices,” Jason Walters said.
Additional attractive features will include a breakfast table facing the windows, high-top booths for additional privacy to study, and fresh ground coffee. Once they release the full menu, there will be some different shakes, purees, and blended items available to order.
With the grand opening approaching, the interior has undergone a complete makeover, offering bright light and a crisp, clean, and modernized vibe.
“My wife is a major part of this,” said Jason Walters. “All the colors and decor and layout were all her vision. Dena Walters really designed and came up with all of the concepts, I just built it.”
The updated restaurant will still feature some of the historic pieces the Palace Cafe was known for, and its famous mural is being repurposed into a collage.
“We are changing a lot but want to reincorporate history back into the restaurant,’’ Jason Walters said. “I think we really modernized the place as far as colors and decor, but we kept some of the traditional checkered floor and bar stools that we are fixing up.”