Monday, 07 November 2022 11:30

Getting the Royals Treatment

Written by  Josh Veal
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Pizza at Royals. Pizza at Royals. Courtesy Photo

Editor's Note: As of Tuesday, Nov. 8, Royals has announced they're closing permanently. You can read the announcement here.

From hot dogs to breakfast to pizza, neighborhood eatery Royals has been on a long and winding journey to arrive where they are today.

The story goes back to an old local favorite, Jonny B’z. What started as an affordable hot dog joint with late-night options changed drastically when they moved across the street to a larger location for a more typical restaurant experience. Unfortunately, not everyone loved the new hours and changed atmosphere—and owner Bob Graham never really meant to be a restaurateur anyway, essentially inheriting the business from his former partner.

That’s when Paul and Jess Lee stepped up to help, in 2018. As co-owners of All-In Hospitality Group, they’d seen great success with spots like The Winchester, Donkey and Hancock. After a year or so of listening to customer feedback, they knew something had to change, but also felt a third iteration of Jonny B’z would be confusing.

So, the concept of Royals emerged: a modern neighborhood diner with a focus on breakfast and lunch. Paul Lee said they wanted it to feel like it had been there forever. “We kind of had this vision of when you travel, you grab breakfast someplace, and you see the same group of guys that are sitting in the corner, drinking coffee and talking about how great things used to be. They do it every single day.” 

After months of preparation and renovation, Royals was ready to open to the public on March 16, 2020. In fact, they did open — for a couple hours. Then Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced all restaurants needed to close their doors immediately due to a certain global pandemic. It was an uphill battle from there. 

Being forced to launch a neighborhood gathering space as a take-out joint isn’t ideal, and even when 2021 arrived, things were hardly back to normal. Fast forward to spring of 2022 and Royals still wasn’t bringing people in the way they hoped, Lee said, not to mention the incredible struggle of staffing three meal services right now. Once again, it was time to reimagine things.

Royals closed for a few months, allowing the staff to help fill gaps at the other All-In Hospitality restaurants. Meanwhile, Lee and team went back to the drawing board. “As we looked at concepts, we started thinking about, in some of these cities that we love to travel to, like Chicago, there are these neighborhood pizza places slash sports bars and they work within that neighborhood. And that’s something that isn’t really being met here.”

Even though there are plenty of quality take-out pizza spots in town, not to mention a few breweries with stellar pies, there was nothing like this: A modern yet welcoming sports bar with a focus on excellent pizza. 

The new Royals is a bit more cozy than the last iteration, with more decorations, a nice walnut wall, antiques, etc. The TVs are certainly there and easy to see, but not overwhelming like certain big chain sports bars. It just feels like walking into the home of a big sports fan, who also happens to be a great cook. 

As any sports fan knows, it can be a huge pain and expense to make sure you have all the different cable packages to watch all the games you want. Well, Royals has done that for you, so now all you have to do is come in and saddle up to the bar. 

For the pizza, Lee says they consulted with a friend who’s a Michelin and James Beard winning chef. He helped them create the recipe for the dough, deal with dough management, and build a solid foundation for great stone-baked pizza. For instance, the crust is meant to be a bit charred and crispy so the pizza doesn’t flop around. 

As a big fan of Brick Road Pizza (R.I.P.), Lee wanted to bring some innovation and vegetarian/vegan options to the menu. But his personal favorite is the Roni, which features natural casing pepperoni that cups up in the oven. It also has banana peppers, fresh oregano and hot honey. I loved it as well. The cupped pepperonis create little bowls of flavor, and despite the peppers/honey, it’s not too spicy at all. 

Another crowd pleaser is the Garlic Bites. Picture bite-sized breadsticks tossed with garlic herb butter and grated parmesan, served with marinara and ranch. They’re fluffy little pillows of doughy heaven, and I don’t know what Royals puts in their ranch, but it’s out of this world. Not to sound too Midwestern, but you might just want to ask for extra. 

Other interesting options include Fried Calamari appetizer, Impossible Meatballs, and hoagies baked in an oven. For drinks, you’re looking at a variety of wine, house cocktails and beer. 

All in all, Royals is meant to be a casual place where anyone can come hang out, grab a bite and watch the game together. It’s the perfect place to cheer for your favorite team and meet new people while doing so. Who knows, maybe you’ll become a regular!

701 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids

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