A Brief History Of The Gilmore Collection


The Gilmore Collection has developed a reputation for delivering tremendous food, beverage, entertainment, atmosphere and hospitality at each of their restaurants. Perhaps even greater than all of these attributes, however, is the rich history and architecture that can be found at many of their establishments. Turning once-vacant buildings into thriving social hubs has become an uncanny talent of the men behind The Gilmore Collection. Meet John F. Gilmore, Gregory S. Gilmore, and the many personalities of The Gilmore Collection Restaurants.

"The future belongs to those who prepare for it." Thoughtful words from a man so dedicated to the preservation of history. Meet John F. Gilmore, founder of The Gilmore Collection. After starting his professional career with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, John Gilmore transitioned into Real Estate Development, spearheading new development projects like Jacobson's in East Grand Rapids and others. John's first foray into the hospitality business came with the purchase of The Jerome Hotel (Aspen, Colorado) in 1968. This was followed by the opening of The Thornapple Village Inn (Ada, Michigan) a decade later.

In 1981, John's son, Gregory Gilmore, entered into the fold at the age of twenty-three. Previously studying hospitality management at Davenport and philosophy at The University of Oregon, Gregory decided to accept a management position at The Thornapple during a visit home from Oregon. Shortly thereafter, The Thornapple won several prestigious awards, including Grand Rapids Magazine's coveted Restaurant Of The Year Award. And the rest, as they say, is history. Over the next three decades, the father and son duo embarked on a series of acquisitions that would define The Gilmore Collection as it is known today - increasing the establishment count from one to over twenty.

During this time The Gilmore Collection continued to develop a philosophy that had begun thirty years prior with John F. Gilmore's purchase of The Jerome Hotel: the preservation of historic buildings and landmarks. This vision would go on to define the Gilmore Collection’s standard for an outstanding dining experience, and it continues to factor heavily into the Gilmores' formula for continued success in the hospitality industry. The Kirby Hotel, currently The Kirby House (Grand Haven, Michigan), was purchased and restored in 1989. Formerly The Gildner Hotel, the building was originally built in 1873 on the plot where the first permanent home in Grand Haven once stood. Today The Kirby House is heavily trafficked, especially in the summer months during Grand Haven's heaviest tourism season.

In 1992 The Gilmores scored a major victory with the acquisition and subsequent revamping of Rose's, a small restaurant and the last remaining historical landmark of the Romana Park era, when Rose's was nestled alongside ornate pavilions, roller coasters and docks for excursion boats. Presently, Rose's on Reeds Lake retains its old world charm, while remaining one of Grand Rapid's most beloved restaurants. The '90s for The Gilmore Collection saw the addition of Rose's Express (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and The Redstone Inn, a rustic, turn-of-the-century resort nestled deep within the mountains of Redstone, Colorado. Of course, the '90s ended with the most ambitious project of the decade - The B.O.B., in 1997. The 70,000-square-foot, four story, red brick building was constructed in 1903 as Judson's Grocery Warehouse. It stood vacant for decades before The Gilmore Collection began its transformation, saving it from demolition. The move was financially risky and a daunting commitment, but John and Greg Gilmore had the vision and determination to see the project through. As a result, The B.O.B. is now a Grand Rapids icon for food and entertainment, housing four restaurants, two nightclubs, a microbrewery, banquet facilities, comedy club and more.

The Gilmore Collection carried the momentum of The B.O.B.'s success into the new century with a continued emphasis on opening restaurants within the confines of beautiful historic buildings. This began with the renovation of the Bergin Building on East Main Street in Lowell, Michigan. Built in the early twentieth-century, the building became home to the Flat River Grill, appropriately named after the river it lies adjacent to. After treating Lowell to the great food and hospitality of The Gilmore Collection, John and Greg looked to implement yet another piece of their formula for success - open a restaurant next to a body of water. However, this time they had the body of water (Versluis Lake), but no building. So they built an entirely new building using a little architectural history for inspiration - more specifically, Frank Lloyd Wright. The result was Blue Water Grill, widely recognized as one of the most stunning buildings in Grand Rapids. The public reception of Blue Water Grill was an astounding success. Although newly built, it replicated the charm and character found in several of the historic buildings in the collection.

After opening up Blue Water Grill, the Gilmores moved back to familiar territory and purchased Gibsons, located inside the historic mansion at 1033 Lake Drive. They promptly revamped the decor and menu to reflect a more casual Italian feel and renamed the restaurant Mangiamo! The fresh name and contemporary aesthetics breathed new life into the location. Later in the decade The Gilmore Collection added a pair of new establishments through the purchase and renovation of two more historical buildings. The old Creston Heights Library was transformed into a hip, retro-style bistro, Red Jet Cafe. The project, combined with The Gilmore Collection's flair for great food and atmosphere, has helped in the revitalization of yet another neighborhood in the Grand Rapids community.

The Gilmore Collection then took over ownership and operations at Nick Fink's Saloon, the oldest bar in Grand Rapids (established in 1888). Rich in character, tradition, and paranormal activity (the West Michigan Ghost Hunters' Society has been in to investigate!), Fink's made for a unique addition to the Gilmore's catalog of venues. Finally, in 2012, The Gilmores rescued, yet another, historic property: Bostwick Lake Inn. Located in Rockford, Bostwick Lake Inn combines both a rich history and beautiful lakefront location, which made it near impossible for Greg and John to turn down the opportunity to bring it into the fold of their fine collection of restaurants.

Looking toward the future, the Gilmore family continues to research potentially great additions to their collection of restaurants, while maintaining the highest level of quality possible in those sites which are already owned.