The Rapidian

New generation of local restaurateurship brings technology to dining experience

Johnny Brann, Jr. is forging ahead while honoring the family success in his new restaurant Kitchen 67.
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Johnny Brann, Jr. has more than an extensive background in the restaurant industry. He started out working in his family’s Brann’s Steakhouses. His family started him off with the character-building work of weeding the parking lot. He then moved up to scrubbing shelves in the storerooms, bussing tables and washing dishes. As he got older, he learned how to cook, serve tables and eventually bartend. Brann, Jr. says he is thankful to have worked every type of job in a restaurant because it has given him an intimate knowledge and respect for each of the necessary roles of maintaining and running a restaurant.

Now after years of working alongside his father, grandfather, and uncles, the torch has been passed to Brann, Jr. as he opens his own restaurant. 

Kitchen 67, in Grand Rapids Township at 1977 East Beltline, is named in remembrance of the year 1967, the year when the sizzler steak at his grandfather John Brann’s steakhouse really took off.

“He was selling 800 to 900 sizzler dinners on Friday and Saturday nights. [There was] a line wrapped around the building,” says Brann, Jr. “So Kitchen 67 is a throwback to, and a tribute to, my family’s history in Grand Rapids and West Michigan.”

The Brann family has a long-standing legacy in the greater Grand Rapids area that has been built around the reputation of their steaks. So Brann, Jr. has decided to incorporate the Brann’s Steakhouse steak into several menu items, including a Sizzler Bowl, Sizzler Wrap and the Steak Sandwich.

“I’m using the sizzler meat right now, the same recipe and specifications that only a few of us know,” says Brann, Jr. “So I’m still utilizing all the core pieces of that menu and just adding a little bit of a flair or flavor into the menu.”

Brann, Jr. spent nearly two years working with chefs, vendors and menu specialists exploring other restaurant concepts in other regions and states to develop his menu. Besides red meat, Kitchen 67 offers a variety of chicken options, hormone free wings, ribs that are slow cooked for 12 hours, as well as gluten free and vegetarian items to cater to the tastes of a diverse clientele.

“There’s a lot of innovation here, starting with the food,” says Brann, Jr. “We wanted high flavors- bold flavored foods with still some of your classic favorites on there as well. We went a little edgy with the recipes.”

Where Brann, Jr.’s concept diverges the most from his family heritage and from other restaurants in the area is in the way he has decided to incorporate cutting-edge technology into the very fabric of the restaurant. He partnered with Apple on his ideas for Kitchen 67.

“[Apple’s] involvement has been huge since the beginning until today and ongoing,” says Brann, Jr. There are Apple iPads with digital menu screens at each booth and an iPod controls all the music in the restaurant through iTunes DJ. One of the most unique technological features of the restaurant is a wall of LED panels on the ceiling that displays an assortment of colorful light show themes selected by Brann, Jr. from his iPad.

“This restaurant is like a mood ring,” says Brann, Jr. “I mean we can adjust your entire atmosphere by the click of my button on my master iPad or my iPhone.” Whether it’s shooting stars on the ceiling at nighttime or switching the genre of music, Brann, Jr. is all about customizing his restaurant experience to make his clientele happy.

“Whatever mood you’re in, if you’re on the go during the day, you know if you want to have a good networking lunch and get some business done- we have all the necessities for that. If you want to sit back and relax and get table service at night and see some shooting stars above you, you can do that here. So it’s just a mood ring.”

Kitchen 67 is an all ages restaurant, but there’s no question that this eatery was designed to be especially inviting to the technologically savvy youth market. According to Brann, Jr., the young people who come in love the atmosphere, layout and the technology. For the tweeting crowd, there is a flat-screen television that instantly shows all tweets that tag @Kitchen67 in them.

“You know it’s funny, the 13 to 18 year olds, they get it all, they got it [and] they understand it,” says Brann, Jr. It’s the over 18 customers where he has to do a little more explaining to let them in on all the techie innovations at Kitchen 67.

Brann, Jr. calls this new way of operating a restaurant “flex casual.” During the day all orders are placed at the counter at the entrance to the restaurant and servers drop food off at the table. After 4:00 there is shift to the more traditional table service for guests coming in for dinner.

“I want to challenge the entire [restaurant] industry to go out there and think bigger, do something beyond just the typical bricks and mortar,” says Brann, Jr. He views his restaurant concept as a challenge to the entire industry to step up their game and embrace change in an effort to improve things across the board.

Kitchen 67 has been officially open to the public since August 22, 2012.

“We’re actually open-open, it’s not soft anymore,” says Brann, Jr. “We’re pretty much ready for ya. Ready as we can be.”

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