Merkel puts all his eggs in Howell’s basket

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It was a dream — a vision, really — several years in the making.

On Feb. 9, it came true.

But not without a ton of commitment, perseverance, effort, financial investment and a solid belief in downtown Howell.

Notable restaurateur Adam Merkel recently relocated Diamonds Steak & Seafood to the southwest corner of Grand River and Michigan avenues, revamping and updating the spot that formerly housed Mr. B’s Rustic Tavern. Twice the size and able to accommodate upwards of 200 customers, the new Diamonds also features a separate dining room for private parties or large groups, a two-way fireplace and an expanded menu.

“It feels surreal,” Merkel said, stepping away from the action for a few minutes, the afternoon after opening day. “I remember walking through downtown Howell about six years ago, thinking ‘what if…’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool to be a part of this….’”

And of course, he has been a major player in what he calls “making downtown (Howell) a food destination” since he and his parents purchased Diamonds at its original location, 209 E. Grand River Ave., in 2011. Merkel bought them out two years later — yet he didn’t stop there. In 2015, he became owner of Mr. B’s, intending for it to eventually become Diamonds’ new home. Then, a few months ago, he opened his speakeasy-type cocktail bar, the Silver Pig, next door.

This group of friends recently enjoyed lunch together at Diamonds Steak & Seafood, giving the eatery glowing reviews. PHOTO BY AILEEN WINGBLAD.

But wait, there’s more: In the next few weeks Merkel expects to debut his latest undertaking, Cello Ristorante, in Diamonds’ former spot. He describes it as “an intimate, modern Italian restaurant…with pasta made right in front of the customers.” And that common space between the Silver Pig and the new Diamonds? It will soon be The Mercantile, where fans of Merkel’s eateries can buy gift cards, hoodies, hats and other restaurant apparel, or pick up carryout orders.

Talk about having faith in a community.

“I have all my eggs in Howell’s basket. All my eggs,” Merkel said, grinning. “And well, I’m always nervous — I don’t take anything for granted. You’re really only as good as your last meal, your last success. So that’s what keeps me motivated and working hard.”

And sometimes that calls for moving at breakneck speed. After a two-year planning period, it took just nine days to transform Mr. B’s into Diamonds Steak & Seafood, including menu updates. Along with uber popular filet mignon tips and other favorites, eight hand-made sushi rolls are among the new stars. It’s no wonder they were a hit with customers right away: Merkel said it took some six months of development to land the perfect combinations and flavors.

“It was a ton of work, but they had to be right,” he said.

Indeed. People are giving the thumbs-up to the new Diamonds — not only because of the menu but the overall vibe, as well.

“It’s all very good, a lot better than what I expected,” said Hunter Keir, lunching with a group of friends a few days ago.

“And (the original Diamonds) was a little cramped, but this place is very open. It’s a good environment.”

Fellow customer Matt Lindley agreed. “It’s a thousand times better than the old place. The renovations are beautiful and the food is amazing,” he said.

A self-professed perfectionist, Merkel says he’s obsessed with details and committed to his personal motto of “wanting today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today.” Everything he serves must meet the highest standards, he said — a bar set by himself, operations manager Tom Kenrick and chef Craig Myrand.

“Between the three of us, we pick apart every dish, sometimes making them 20 times over until it blows us away,” Merkel said. “That’s when you know you have a winner. It’s all about deliciousness.”

As for carving out so many pieces of Howell’s restaurant scene, Merkel said there’s no place he’d rather be.

“I love the downtown, I love the charm and the history,” he said. “What else is better than this? I don’t think anything is.”

And as he wraps up finishing touches on Cello and The Mercantile, is some downtime finally on its way for Merkel?

Not just yet.

“I’ll have plenty of time to rest next year,” he said. “Maybe.”

Diamonds at 101 W. Grand River Ave. in downtown Howell is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. You can check out Diamond’s Steak & Seafood website by clicking here, and you can follow the restaurant on Facebook by clicking here.