Jason and Dena Walters are fin­ishing ren­o­va­tions at The Local Eatery. Julia Mullins | Col­legian

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.”