Gluten-free fast food in GR: the Papa Chops menu

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The years-long wait is over: Grand Rapids’ gluten-free community can now walk into Papa Chops Eatery and get their dose of allergen-free fast food.

“It’s been a long time getting here to sit down and eat a burger. Honestly, it’s taken years and years to get here. That’s it, it’s nice. I have to enjoy it. I have to remember: slow down, enjoy,” Muller said as he sat with his culinary team, enjoying a gluten-free burger and fries on the patio picnic table outside his new restaurant.

(Papa Chops Eatery owner and founder Aaron Muller enjoys a Big Papa burger from his restaurant with employees on May 31, 2022.)

Restaurant Papa Chops will celebrate its grand opening Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the restaurant, located at 2222 28th St. SE, just west of Breton Road. It’s a dream that owner and founder Aaron Muller started pursuing in 2020, shortly after being diagnosed with celiac disease.

“The pandemic hit, I closed my shop and it was kind of a desperate time for my family. I had no income. I don’t have a degree. So I sat down and I thought, ‘OK, what do my skills lend themselves to? Well, I’ve been in business all my life and frankly I’ve eaten food all my life. So how do we marry them and where is opportunity to bring something unique? And so we started looking and we were like, ‘Well, my illness prevents me from going to so many restaurants. What if we create one in which people could come in, even if they’re not gluten-free, but just come in and feel safe. What would that feel like? And that’s really what I want to give back,” Muller said.

(Contractors install the sign for Papa Chops Eatery on May 2, 2022.)

Early on, Muller enlisted the help of executive chef Thaddeus Whorley, whom he met in culinary school. Together, in Muller’s kitchen, they spent about 18 months perfecting the Papa Chops menu, which are exclusively gluten-free dishes. The couple also traveled to Seattle to check out its gluten-free eateries, returning to Grand Rapids with a perspective and matching tattoos of the gluten-free symbol.

(Left to right: Papa Chops owner Aaron Muller and executive chef Thaddeus Whorley reveal new tattoos featuring the gluten-free symbol, which they got on a food research trip and restaurants in Seattle.)

Meanwhile, Kozak Construction worked to transform Muller’s former intaglio print shop, Rose Engraving, into a restaurant complete with an industrial kitchen, 16-seat dining room and outdoor patio. Muller said he took “pretty extreme measures” to ensure the facility remained gluten-free throughout the process, even having the general contractor post signs prohibiting his employees from bringing in food. exterior – a rule that remains in force for all visitors to Papa Côtelettes.

“The point of a dinner party is to go somewhere carefree and eat good food. And so when you have what I have, it’s, it’s almost impossible – until now,” Muller said.

(File photo dated May 31, 2022 shows the interior of Papa Chops Eatery, a gluten-free restaurant in Grand Rapids.)


Two weeks before he turned 40, a doctor told Muller that gluten was the culprit of his illness. Muller says five parts per million of gluten is enough to leave him bedridden for days. Muller says he can ingest this tiny amount simply through contact with one of his children who had gluten at school and didn’t wash afterwards.

“I’ve never seen anyone come out like this before it was really eye-opening,” Whorley said.

Muller said it took around 18 months to get his condition under control and another 18 months to unlock the secret to delicious gluten-free onion rings, fries, pizzas and burgers – all foods he’s been missing since his diagnosis. .

Last week he celebrated his 43rd birthday at Papa Chops by testing the menu on his family and friends. Muller says almost all of them weren’t following a gluten-free diet.

“(We have) a lot so wow. Lots of “it’s amazing”, even a round of applause. It was pretty cool,” Muller said.

“When people can’t tell it’s gluten-free, you know we’re doing our job right,” Whorley added.


Papa Chops’ culinary team has a combined 70 years of experience in the kitchen, but apart from Muller, none of them have celiac disease. Muller says this is an advantage for refining flavors.

(Owner and founder of Papa Chops, Aaron Muller (left), watches his culinary team prepare several menu items before the restaurant officially opens.)

“They are more used to the competitor’s food that contains gluten. And so if they tell me they like the food (here) then that’s a wonderful sign because even though I’m targeting a specific audience, the best compliment I can get is that people can’t tell that is gluten-free,” Müller said.

“We’re not trying to reinvent anything. We’re just trying to make it better and safer for gluten-free people,” added Whorley, who visited about 20 restaurants to research the foods.

Muller says there’s also a benefit to the fast food form of Papa Chops for those who can tolerate gluten.

“While it’s not much healthier, it’s still healthier. The ingredients are simple, there are no preservatives, no salt, sugars, all those things, so you’ll feel better (compared to other fast foods) after eating it” , did he declare.

(Papa Chops cook Christopher Smith holds the Cheezy Burg in Papa Chops’ kitchen.)

Papa Chops Menu features 15-20 items, from the Bull Rider burger topped with jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon and root beer-infused onions to roasted poppers filled with peas and carrots, which are Muller’s favorites and Whorly. Prices range from $4 to $13 per item.

(Roasted gluten-free poppers, fries and burgers lie on a kitchen prep table at Papa Chops Eatery, located at 2222 28th St. SE in Grand Rapids.)

“I want to keep the prices that people are already used to paying as close as possible because gluten-free people spend a fortune on food. I have a family and we probably spend five times as much money as we spent before my diagnosis. And so it does for a lot of people, it’s just incredibly expensive. So it’s critical to me that people can come back multiple times a week and not have their account broken doing so,” Muller said.

Eventually, Papa Chops plans to expand its menu to include gluten-free wraps and beer.


Opening a restaurant during the pandemic comes with challenges, and Papa Chops is no exception to supply chain and labor challenges. The restaurant’s pizza prep table arrived a week before the official opening and Muller was still waiting for some equipment.

(Papa Chops Eatery employees move the restaurant’s pizza prep table from a truck to the kitchen.)

Muller says he’s “blessed” to have a large, experienced team in his kitchen, including a former Rose Engraving employee. But he needs more.

“We evolve, we adapt. Every day has its challenges,” he said.

(Papa Chops executive chef Thaddeus Whorley smiles during a preview of the menu ahead of the restaurant’s official opening on June 7, 2022.)

But the overwhelming response from Grand Rapids’ gluten-free community reassured him every step of the way.

“A lady called me…and said her son was extremely excited and hadn’t eaten onion rings in probably 10 years,” he said.

“I didn’t know who our audience would be. I know I have celiac disease, and so I know there are more, but I didn’t know how many – and there is a small army of them. So I think the most fun part is the ownership that Grand Rapids took in that,” Muller said. “If it’s someone’s project, it’s not really mine. It’s Grand Rapids and the people who helped make this happen. So thanks to them.

“At the end of the day, we’re just two guys trying to cook great food and help people through food,” Whorley said.

Muller eventually plans to add drive-thru to Papa Chops Eatery. Business hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For updates, follow Papa Chops on Facebook.

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