BELDING — Decades ago, customers of the former Village Hearth would schedule reservations days in advance to assure a seat at the popular restaurant located in the heart of downtown Belding.
After going through several owners, new titles, new menus and a period of several years in which the building sat empty, the structure became an empty shell of its former self.
But now, Mark Hoople is ready for a resurgence.
Hoople, who purchased the building last year, will be opening the new Silk City Saloon restaurant and bar, located at 135 N. Bridge St., with a grand opening at 11 a.m. today.
Hoople said he is ready to welcome customers with open arms after training his staff throughout the past week during the business’ soft opening period.
“What I want to offer here is a place where anybody can come and feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s a restaurant, but yet it’s a bar. I want to offer a dinning experience that is affordable but matches up with some of the quality restaurants in the area.”
Hoople said the reminder of what his building once was will keep him pursuing his dream of operating an establishment he hopes will become known for quality food and service.
“This was the Village Hearth at one time and it used to be reservation only, it was one of the premier restaurants in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “I would like to create that experience again for this area.”
Hoople has owned and managed the Smyrna Bar in downtown Smyrna since 1999 and says he is using that experience to help build a quality establishment he hopes will last for years to come.
“I know that a lot of people from Greenville, Ionia and the surrounding area will come here,” he said. “It’s not just a Belding restaurant, but they’ll get the downtown Belding experience.”
Most importantly, Hoople said he is hoping his business will help to create a resurgence in a downtown that has seen many businesses come and go over the past several years.
“I want to let people know that downtown Belding is not dead by any means,” he said. “If this starts a resurgence of the downtown, I would love that.”
Executive chef Joshua Baragrey share’s Hoople’s excitement and believes his new menu will convince customers that the Silk City Saloon will become one of the premier restaurants in the area.
“I really just wanted to bring a little bit more to the table other than pizza, McDonald’s and Burger King in the Belding area,” he said. “We have created a menu with a lot of homemade, cooked from scratch, items.”
Among those items, Baragrey said the restaurant will most likely become known for its country fried steak.
“We have a country fried steak that we keep hearing is the best that anyone has ever had,” he said. “It’s a little bit of prime rib, a little egg wash, homemade seasoned breading, deep fried, with our own homemade country gravy.”
Baragrey said almost every item on the menu is made in-house.
“We’re not one of those restaurants where our recipes are ‘open a bag and go,’” he said. “We’re doing things the hard way. It might take a little longer, but we guarantee once it hits the pallet it’s going to be worth it.”
Baragrey said the other key so success for the business will be keeping prices affordable for their customers.
“We try to make sure that our price points are reasonable as we know that’s been a problem for this area with the economy being down,” he said. “Obviously we can’t give food away, but we’re not trying to nickel and dime people either.”
For Baragrey, who grew up in Belding and now lives in Greenville with his wife and four children, working as an executive chef in Belding is right where he wants to be since bouncing around several establishments after attending culinary school.
“I grew up here, being able to come back home and take everything that I’ve learned over the past 12 years, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous, but without any risks there are no rewards. We just need to get butts in seats at this point.”
The Silk City Saloon will offer six beers on tap, including Samuel Adams, Founders All Day IPA, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite and Angry Orchard cider. More than 75 varieties of liquor will be served, as well as bottled beers, Michigan wines and other beverages.
According to Hoople, the Silk City Saloon will offer a much different experience than the Smyrna Bar, located just four miles south, offering its own unique menu.
“This isn’t my first rodeo, I’ve done this before,” he said. “If I can make it in Smyrna, I can make it in Belding.”
Business hours are noon to 10 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Hoople said on Fridays and Saturdays evening entertaining in the from of a DJ will begin at 10 p.m.
The business will serve lunch and dinner, with plans to eventually serve breakfast in the spring.
Hoople said all he needs now is for customers to give him a chance.
“The food is awesome,” he said. “Josh has nailed the menu, it’s all about him. Our pastas are awesome and the burgers are a whole different experience. It’s all recipes that we’ve come up with. I’m really proud of our menu. We offer alcohol and tasteful dining at a reasonable price.”