Grand Rapids, Mich. – As you drive down Rich Street in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood, you can’t miss the iconic stretch of Brick Road, one of the first roads built in the city.
And when these bricks look back, the Pride flags on every storefront in the business district show progress in the Uptown area.
“When people who are queer or BIPOC or otherwise marginalized come in here, they realize this is open to them,” said Steven Martinez, owner/operator of Basalt Restaurant.
The apparent queer presence is what prompted Martinez to open Basalt near the intersection of Lake and Rich.
The morning we spent with Steven, he was busy preparing brunch at Tejano Flyer with his crew. But more than just good food, he’s made it his mission to provide an all-inclusive experience.
Steven grew up in a Texas community that was not always accepting of queers. It wasn’t until he moved to Eastown after college that he finally felt at home in his own skin.
“I lived after I got out,” Steven said.
“So having the opportunity to open a business in this neighborhood – it was really foundational for me.”
More than a dozen queer-owned retail shops and restaurants line the half-mile stretch of Rich Avenue. Many of them work together to promote panel discussions and events focused on supporting people who want to love themselves.
“So it means a lot to walk down the street and see places, especially ones that aren’t queer owned, but say, ‘Hey, we see you, we help you, we love you, you’re welcome here, and you’re going to be safe here,'” Steven said.
And as hundreds of delicious entrées are prepared for hungry patrons each day, Steven continues to push not only to fill his stomach, but to raise visibility for the queer community in West Michigan.
“I think [Eastown] It’s been a place for us to come together to support each other to feel comfortable and safe,” Steven said.
Basalt hosts several events that discuss visibility and support for the LGBTQ+ community.