GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The downtown Grand Rapids restaurant Char serves ‘Asian fusion’ cuisine.
Diners can enjoy a variety of options from a vegan fried rice bowl to tacos all with a window-seat view.
Char, located at 6 Jefferson Ave. SE, most popular dishes include build-your-own salads, tacos and secret-menu items: wonton cheese rolls and loaded wonton chips. Abdul Qassem, co-owner, says those dishes have been a big hit since the recent addition.
“(We) wanted to appeal to the new generation, a healthier generation, with the salads … and something with a heartier hit to it like the Asian tacos. Who doesn’t like tacos?” said Qassem, about developing Char’s menu.
The restaurant, which opened in November 2018, has an industrial-style interior with exposed brick throughout the dining area. According to Qassem, he and his staff relied on his renovation experience to complete approximately 60 percent of the updates to the front and back of the venue.
In early 2018, while working for a local flooring and interior company, Qassam stumbled into his restauranteur journey. He was laying countertops with the company when Adham Kader, co-owner of Char, approached him with a new restaurant idea.
Kader is Qassam’s cousin and the owner of Gita Pita, a Mediterranean restaurant with a dining room that connects to Char.
Kader originally envisioned an Italian street-food spot but later came up with the idea to incorporate the restaurant’s signature teriyaki glaze and yum-yum sauces on the menu.
Qassam said the idea came to them mid-construction.
“We wanted something healthy, we wanted something different and we wanted something unique and Char fit all of them,” he said.
The unique menu, created by Kader, offers a variety of options to make healthy eating taste great. Many of the flavors are inspired by his time in culinary school as well as learning the traditional meals he ate during his childhood, explained Ramzy Kader, Ahdam Kader’s brother and business partner.
“So even though he learned a lot of things from my mom and grandma, he still always had a stronger taste … he always knew how to put flavors together,” Kader said.
While the concept caught the attention of locals in the first two years, business took a hit once the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Char kept its doors open for takeout and delivery only until they were able to reopen their dining room this summer.
As business declined suddenly, staff hours were cut. Qassem often found himself working from open to close during that time. Today, there are still only four staff members working at the restaurant as they face a 35 to 40 percent decline in revenue compared to pre-pandemic.
“Things aren’t the same as they used to be before COVID, but we cannot complain,” said Qassem. “The business is open, and everybody is enjoying the food.”
Employees are still taking safety precautions during the pandemic. This includes wearing masks and sanitizing surfaces.
Customers are also asked to wear masks when they are not seated and eating inside the restaurant.
Despite the change of pace, Qassem has remained positive for the future of Char.
“We’re still kicking … we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “I would make sure that does not happen even if I have to live here, really.”
While the restaurant has a regular customer base, Qassem says they will continue to rely on advertising and social media to bring in new customers daily.
Qassem and Kader hope to get back on track with their plans to open new locations for both Char and Gita Pita as well as franchise the restaurants by 2021.
Visit Char’s website to view their menu. Orders for delivery can be made online or by contacting the restaurant at (616) 265-5528. Char is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
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