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Russ' Restaurant beginnings

The Story of Russ' Restaurants

All Because of Egg Prices…

Had J. Russel Bouws’ egg business been profitable, Russ’ Restaurants may never have existed. Russel (who went by “Russ”) graduated from Zeeland High School in 1932 with the dream of being a farmer. However, due to the depression, eggs sold for 12 cents a dozen, pork and beef for 8 cents a pound, and corn for 53 cents a bushel. In 1934, Russ’ father, John Bouws, purchased “Doc’s Barbeque” in Holland, Michigan, and Russ began running the restaurant at twenty years of age.

Humble Beginnings

Doc’s Barbeque consisted of a 12’x16’ wooden structure that contained a three-burner gas plate, a 12-inch skillet, one kitchen table with five chairs, a Heatrolla, and a small sign for “Curb Service.” All this set Russ and his father back $147. They leased the land from John Zoerhof, who owned the gas station next door, in return for two meals a day from the restaurant. Russ and John added a 6’x16’ kitchen and a small bedroom where Russ could stay overnight to ward off break-ins.

The Restaurant Grows

At first, sales ran from $4-$7 a day. But in April 1935, Russ grossed $197, and the business was paid for with money in the bank to spare! As the business grew more prosperous, Russ’ sister-in-law, Metta, helped out at the restaurant, and Russ’ brother, Gord, washed dishes and did odd jobs. By 1937, Russ had met his future wife, Julia Klinge, who soon joined the restaurant crew. In 1940, the two married and built their new home across the street from the restaurant.

Expanding Along the Lakeshore

The years progressed. World War 2 ended, and business was booming. Expansion and enlargement became almost a yearly ritual at Russ’ Restaurants. In 1965, Russ’ sons, John and Bryan, joined the business operations. In addition, the first Russ’ Restaurant to be located outside Holland was built in Muskegon, MI.

The Commissary

Russ' Restaurants now has numerous locations, a Commissary division, and a Corporate Office. The 28,000 square foot commissary, located in Holland, MI, turns out all the chain's soups, desserts, dressings, and gravies. It also prepares croutons, baked goods, and pigs in the blanket for Russ' Restaurants. In addition, commissary workers bread a number of menu items like mushrooms and fish, as well as process some of the meats for sandwiches and salads, all under a U.S.D.A. Inspector's watchful eye. The commissary also functions as a storage and distribution center for bulk food delivered to all Russ' Restaurants.

Russ' Restaurant beginnings

Starting a Curbside Service Trend

The original equipment purchased included an old hang-on tray. This tray inspired Russ to provide curbside tray service, which soon became very popular in the area. Now a lost art, the trials of walking through puddles while balancing a tray on a windy night as car lights blinked and horns honked can only be appreciated by members of that era.

Russ' Comes to Grand Rapids

In 1968, Howard De Haan started pursuing his lifelong dream of owning his own business. While working full-time at Keebler Co. in Chicago, Howard began negotiating with Russ Bouws for franchise rights to Russ’ Restaurants in Kent County. After two years and countless weekend trips between Chicago and Holland, the Russ’ on 28th Street opened in 1970.

Russ Bouws

A Continuing Legacy

When asked, “Why are you so successful?” Russ would answer, “We love our work, we love our people, and God has blessed us throughout all these years.” J Russel Bouws died on August 18, 1992, leaving a heritage that will be remembered for generations. His sons, John and Bryan, expressed, “We are deeply appreciative of the vision, humility, compassion, and faith that marked his life.” Today, Russ’ still maintains the tradition of service, quality, consistency, friendliness, and cleanliness throughout West Michigan.

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