Grand Rapids restaurant owner wins preservation awardWritten by Matt Liasse | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When local restaurant owner Dave LaRoe traveled to Columbus to accept the Ohio History Connections 2014 State Historic Preservation Award, he was unaware he’d have to give a speech — but he got through it.
“It’s tremendous that an organization in Columbus sees what an individual does for a building that maybe wouldn’t have been restored,” LaRoe said.
LaRoe is one of 12 recipients of the award, which he received in October. He said it was fun to see others be honored as well.
“It was cool to see the other projects that people put their heart and soul into,” LaRoe said.
Honorees were from all over the state, but LaRoe was one of two from Northwest Ohio.
LaRoe was honored for the work he’s done with LaRoe’s Restaurant, 24138 Front St. in Grand Rapids, which he began restoring in 1981. The two buildings that house his restaurant had been left damaged by an 1898 fire that destroyed all of the other buildings on the northside of the main street.
Most of the architecture destroyed in the fire was wood while LaRoe’s buildings are brick. It was possibly because of this that the fire was stopped and LaRoe’s was not completely destroyed, LaRoe said.
Originally built to house dry goods, LaRoe bought the property in 1978 with a loan that had a 21 percent interest rate.
He was only a few years out of college when he made the purchase of his life. He said it’s not something a young person would have an easy time doing today.
“With a handshake, they had faith in us,” LaRoe said. “I needed the faith and trust of these bankers. No one can build a building like this in today’s economics.”
The eatery stayed open during the renovations (important because it generated LaRoe’s only income), as the floors were refinished and the linoleum, ceilings, electricity and plumbing were brought back up to code.
The structure was restored to look exactly how it had before the fire, something that was important to LaRoe.
The restaurant includes a tavern with a brass-railed bar, a dining room with a fireplace and historic portraits and a riverside patio overlooking the Sidecut Canal and Maumee River, according to its website. The renovations did not come easy or cheaply LaRoe said, in total costing more than $500,000.
“What you quickly learn as a young person is you’ve got to realize there are unexpected costs,” he said.
The restaurant has also undergone renovations after being hit by floodwaters in 1982 and a minivan that crashed through its front doors in 2010, according to the website.
LaRoe’s award was unique because he won it as an individual, according to Joe Long of the Historical Society of Grand Rapids Ohio.
LaRoe was one of two recipients that were awarded as an individual rather than a firm, government or institution, Long said.
“He did that single-handedly, more or less,” Long said. “[The award is] not to a city, it’s not to an architect, it’s not to a church. It’s to his name.”
Long said the award brings awareness to all of the renovations the town as a whole has undergone.
“I think it highlights what has occurred in the village starting in the 1970s in terms of a real turnaround,” Long said. “That award is Dave’s, no doubt about it, but it signifies what has happened in that area.”
For more information, visit laroesrestaurant.com.