“We have nowhere near enough space right now, and I’d been looking at moving downtown,” Meat owner Sean Johnson said. “But when I learned this was opening up, it was a very easy decision to make. Old Town is a natural fit for us and I’m glad we’re able to stay here. It worked out very well.”
Sean Johnson said construction will begin early next month and expects work to be done by August. The expansion will allow him to more than triple his current dining room, which can only seat 50 now. He’ll also be tripling his food production: He had already commissioned a new meat smoker that could smoke 800 pounds of meat, putting an end to those mid-day food outages that frustrated many of his diners.
“We just got busier than I thought we ever would,” Johnson said. “Everything is made fresh made every day — I don’t want to be one of those places heating and reserving. But sometimes it’s hard to forecast.”
The two spaces share a wall; the majority of the work will just involve creating that opening. The current dining room will allow Johnson to move his kitchen in that direction. He’ll also be building a full bar in the new dining room.
“There’s no sense in having a liquor license if you can’t use it,” Johnson said. “This move is going to be very beneficial in many ways. More food, faster service and increased catering business. It’s pretty exciting.”
For years, downtown East Lansing has been the domain of college revelers where bar crawls were the name of the game. But in the last year, a change has been affected on Ann Street. HopCat-East Lansing married a mammoth craft beer selection to the gastropub concept. Peppino’s Pizzeria & Sports Grille combined American/ Italian dining with a sports bar. And last month, the new Black Cat Bistro opened on the corner of Albert and Ann streets. It has a scratch Nuevo Latino menu that general manager Tony Phillip said he hopes will attract a more refined dining set.
“We’re very excited to bring a new concept, display and dining experience to the area,” Phillip said. “This is something East Lansing hasn’t seen before.”
The bar’s owner is Ruffy Ramirez, who also owns the Lansing-area Los Tres Amigos restaurants and the nearby Dublin Square. Phillip, who worked at Dublin for six years, said Ramirez was eager to continue the new direction East Lansing seems to be moving in, dining-wise.
“It would be nice to see more restaurants,” Phillip said. “I think people are afraid of downtown. But eventually, we’d like to see a culinary movement in East Lansing.”
Chef Jose Ramiriez worked at Dusty’s Cellar under Kevin Cronin, and at several restaurants up and down the East Coast where he picked up innovate seafood and scratch cooking techniques. He has a masters in fine arts degree, which he said helps him building his dishes.
“They’re very colorful — I make them look very good,” Romero said. “The visual senses definitely influence the plates.”
The 2,000-square-foot restaurant can seat 100, with a garden patio that can accommodate another 48.
“We really wanted that patio,” Phillip said. “It’s very peaceful. You don’t even know you’re in East Lansing.”
Black Cat Bistro 115 Albert Ave., East Lansing 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily (517) 580-3821, blackcatbistroel.com