Vegetarian cafe builds safe environment for students


GVL / Mary Racette

Mary Racette, Associate Editor

Vegetarian restaurant Gaia House Cafe has reopened in a new, brightly decorated location in the Creston neighborhood of Grand Rapids. The current owner encourages students to come to enjoy the food, beverages, and cozy lounge space which is scattered with work from local artists. 

The original Gaia House Cafe opened in the 1980s as a vegetarian restaurant that cultivated an artistic and open-minded culture within its building in the East Hills neighborhood. This spot which had become a beloved gathering place for the community closed in 2014. However, this was not the end of their story. 

Current owner Andrea Bumstead was with Gaia House Cafe for eight years before it shut down. When the previous owner decided to close down, she purchased the rights to recipes.

At first, her plan was to reopen in the original building but when the building was sold, she began looking for other options. This opened the door for Bumstead to set up shop in Creston, a community that has shown her nothing but support throughout this process. 

Creston is Grand Rapids’ largest neighborhood with 25,000 residents. Bumstead has lived in this area for about eight years. She said most of the business owners own their building and she has seen her business neighbors grow organically in this community. 

“It is inspiring to me because it just kind of shows no matter who you are or what walk of life you are, you can build what your dreams are in that space,” Bumstead said. 

Bumstead said she sees something special in Creston that she does not see throughout the rest of Grand Rapids. 

“All of our business neighbors are incredibly connected and work really well together,” Bumstead said. “We hold events all the time in support of our community, neighbors, artists and business owners. You don’t see that a lot in the city so for me that’s really important and kind of the backbone of what Gaia is as a whole and what we want to continue being a part of.”

GVL / Mary Racette

Gaia House Cafe has always intended to welcome guests of all kinds. Regardless of what a customer is wearing, what their occupation is, or if they are alone or with a family, everyone is treated the same. 

“It was just a very open safe place for the community to come and just express exactly who they are exactly where they are and be accepted,” Bumstead said. 

Art has always been an element in the Gaia House Cafe, but Bumstead elevated local artists’ involvement when she reopened by collaborating with the Division Avenue Arts Collective (DAAC). In Gaia’s new space, the restaurant takes up the front and the back is used as a gallery space for the DAAC. 

“Moving forward we just want to invite beginner artists, thriving artists, or ones that are even just testing the waters, and give them some confidence to showcase what they’re capable of doing,” Bumstead said.

While customers of all backgrounds are happily welcomed to the cafe, Bumstead hopes students will come to populate the space more often. 

“We’ve got this beautiful coffee and juice bar lounge that has not really been utilized but we built that for students to come and plugin and do homework or meet up in our lounge space,” Bumstead said. 

Current staffing shortages have prevented Bumstead from executing some of her plans. However, once more staff are able to come in, student discount days are on Bumstead’s radar. 

Vegetarians and vegans are in their element at Gaia House Cafe, but the menu can appeal to anyone. The menu is a mix of items from the original menu and new additions added by Bumstead. One of the additions is the grilled cheese tortilla.  

The Veggie Stash is the most popular dish on the menu as well as the dish Bumstead said she craves the most. This dish was one of the original menu items that Bumstead kept. 

The Gaia House Cafe has a long history behind it of food, art and a warm community. It has only been open for about seven months and it has already drawn people in through the art gallery and classic vegetarian dishes.