VSafé Mamo feels like home.
With just 32 seats, an open kitchen, and countless personal touches, the Creston Restaurant is cozy and welcoming, but not at all cramped or exclusive. Between the atmosphere and the always exceptional meals, Mamo has developed a devoted clientele in less than a year.
Let’s make one thing clear right away: Café Mamo is not a café, it’s a restaurant. The term “café” simply means that it is a special little place with a carefully curated menu. “Mamo” comes from the grandmother of co-owner and chef Michael Goessman.
Mamo is passionately against factory farming, monoculture, GMOs and things of that nature, which led Goessman to love farm-fresh ingredients, as well as his philosophy of living humble and sharing often. Revue sat down with Michael to learn how a special place like Café Mamo came together.
The road to now
Michael and Summer Goessman’s path to Mamo started young and took them all over the country.
Growing up in the small town of Gallatin Gateway, Montana, Chef Michael was exposed to all kinds of amazing food, as many of the locals were actually from all over the country and had traveled the world. This culinary talent included Michael’s own mother, who was the school lunch lady. She wasn’t just any lunch lady though, her food was so popular that the students’ parents came to eat regularly, transforming the school cafeteria into one of the trendiest restaurants around.
Eventually, Michael went to culinary school, then ended up in Livingston, Montana, after seeing an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations that praised the fairly small town. He ended up meeting one of his best friends and greatest mentors there, before moving to a hotel/restaurant/wedding venue called Rainbow Ranch, where he met his wife, Summer.
Summer practically ran the place, a work ethic that extended to laying the Café Mamo’s mortar when there were no available masons and making the table tops.
They then traveled to Seattle, Nashville and New York, where Michael experienced cooking at unique restaurants and Summer earned her sommelier certification while enjoying New York’s generous wine and food offerings. York. Ultimately, their travels took them to Grand Rapids in order to be closer to Summer’s family in Reed City, Michigan.
By purchasing the building in December 2019, the couple were forced to carry out much of the construction work themselves. Although painstaking, it resulted in the warm, intentional vibe that people love.
“The biggest compliments I’ve ever heard about this space are like, I feel like I’m having dinner at my grandma’s house, or at my aunt’s house, or at my cool friend’s parents’ house. And that Finally is the ambiance, because without a doubt, the best meals I have ever enjoyed have been with friends and family.
The small space also allows for better service, both in the kitchen and upstairs.
“It comes from an eye for detail and a lot of attention,” Michael said, adding that even from the kitchen he can visually gauge how customers are feeling and react accordingly. “Every time we send a plate of food, I see exactly where it’s going. I can read the ticket and know who is ordering everything.
Mamo’s menu is small but thoughtful and heavily influenced by seasonal ingredients.
“When people ask what kind of restaurant is it, I just say it’s an American restaurant,” Michael said. “They’re like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ Which is good for us, because it can sort of encompass everything.
Don’t confuse this with a lack of direction – Michael works closely with local farmers, including Apsey Farms, to determine the seasonal menu as well as weekly specials. It even asks for unique and “weirdest” vegetables for the farmer to start growing now.
“We bring in products that have worked in other parts of the country but aren’t popular here, which the farmer is excited about because he can see what works and what people like. The tradeoff is that I’ll give him recipes he can put in his CSA box and hopefully create some buzz and demand for it.
Discover the menu
This does not mean that food is esoteric and inaccessible. For example, fan favorites are buttered buns, wedge salad and half roast chicken. Regulars order the buttered rolls every time (which I also recommend), and some people have eaten the chicken more than 10 times in less than a year.
Then there’s the drinks menu, carefully curated by Summer, with carefully selected wines and cocktails that focus on getting the classics right. The staff are well educated on all of this and how they go together.
Yet, despite being a fan favorite, the roast half-chicken also illustrates the issues Michael faces with using truly quality ingredients.
“People are a little confused and frustrated with the price ($27), but a real organic pastured chicken is extremely expensive. The life cycle is much longer. They are much slower to grow because they don’t eat all the grains and everything.
You get what you pay for, and that’s the good thing – not to mention a great deal. Apsey Farms, one of Mamo’s suppliers, also uses the chickens for regenerative agriculture.
“The cattle go out to graze in the pasture and the chickens come up behind and they break up the manure and loosen the grass and eat worms. With each turn, the land becomes healthier and the cows are healthier because they eat more nutrient dense feed.
These nutrients are then passed on to you! So while Mamo’s menu may cost a few dollars more than a chain restaurant, it’s quite affordable for what is essentially fine dining without any pretension or fuss.
“In the Midwest, some people will immediately write something as fancy. But what our food is really about is that it’s just special,” Michael said.
“We take a lot of care and want more than anything else that everyone enjoys everything they consume.”
1601 Plainfield Ave NE, Grand Rapids