Welcome back, consumers — I mean students! While you were gone this summer, a whole roster of new businesses opened within walking distance of the campuses of Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, Davenport University and Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Most of them provide sustenance (or sugar) to help you focus on your studies — including an “urban bakery” specializing in artisan doughnuts and an authentic Vietnamese diner — but there are a few distractors in the mix. Yes, that’s Lansing’s first-ever distillery serving up a full menu of craft cocktails in downtown Lansing, as well as a new country-themed dance bar. Hey, you know what they say about all work and no electric sliding.
In downtown East Lansing, Pho opened last month in the former location of Tony’s, which closed earlier in the summer. Pho (pronounced“feh” by owner/operator Son Bui) is named for the diner’s signature dish, a soup-like concoction made with rice noodles, scallions, cilantro and your choice of meat. Typically, hot pho broth is poured over the thinly sliced raw meat just before serving, cooking the meat in the serving bowl.
“You only wait two minutes for pho,” Bui said.“It’s faster than fast food.
A Vietnam native, Bui worked in a factory outside Grand Rapids after moving to the U.S. 34 years ago. But when a friend and East Lansing business owner told him the city had no Vietnamese restaurants, he decided to take the plunge. He has no practical restaurant experience, but he hired Lan Yen Bao Ho, a chef who has worked in Las Vegas and Atlanta, to develop his menu and hone the recipes for local taste buds.
Vietnamese cuisine is hot in Metro Lansing. Nola Bistro and Capital City BBQ both have Vietnamese co-owners and feature some of the country’s signature dishes, and no less than three additional restaurants have added bánh mì — a traditional Vietnamese sandwich with pork, pate and pickled carrots and daikon served on a French baguette — to their menus.
Bui said he intends to have a grand opening soon to make his presence known to the student community. After all, they’re the reason he’s here.
A couple of blocks over, another new business, Velvet: A Candy Store, 507 E. Grand River Ave., caters to local sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) and late-night crammers. The confectionary sells handmade ice cream, candy and Mackinac Island-style fudge. Owner/operators Trisha and Erik Berakovich used to run candy stores on Mackinac Island and Harbor Springs before moving to East Lansing to take advantage of the year-round business.
Jersey Mike’s Subs, a national sandwich chain, opens soon at 551 E. Grand River Ave., the former space of Moe’s Southwest Grill, which closed earlier this year. The former Grand River Coffe Café, 515 W. Grand River Ave., will soon become the second location for Tabooli, a fast casual Mediterranean eatery that opened last summer on the city’s east side.
Then there are the new noshing spots slated for the renovated Trowbridge Road development just west of campus. The first out of the gate will be Iorio’s Gelato & Caffé, which is settling in to the ground floor of the newly constructed Trowbridge Lofts. It’s a return of sorts for owner Nick Lemmer, who graduated from the University of Michigan last year — he used to work for his sister, Mary Lemmer, who launched the business at the old Lansing City Market in 2006.
“Back then it was just a summer job,” Nick Lemmer said. “But I found my passion in gelato. And I’ve been wanting to come back to Lansing.”
Iorio’s will make gelato on-site with a machine brought over from Italy, utilizing some imported ingredients.
“It’s similar to what you’d get walking the streets of Italy,” said Lemmer, adding that he intends to use local milk and fruit.
“The nice thing about gelato is that it’s made in small batches, so you can experiment,” Lemmer said. “And with Michigan’s one of the top agricultural spots in the country, so this is a great place to be.”
Iorio’s will also feature Zimmerman’s Coffee, utilizing both traditional and slow-pour brewing methods, and Lemmer said he intends to add pastries eventually.
There are “at least” two more restaurants looking to move into the 8,000-square-foot space adjacent to Iorio’s said Kevin McGraw, president of River Caddis Development, the developer behind the Trowbridge Road construction.
“I’m looking for unique, higher-end (tenants), as evidenced by Iorio’s,” McGraw said. “Our goal is to keep the village concept alive, so we’re being very selective. This area is only going to get better.”
The combined student population of Cooley, Davenport and LCC only comes to about twothirds of MSU’s population, but students at those three campuses have downtown Lansing as their backyard. To help those students get acclimated with the new food and retail vendors, a special Welcome Party will be held 3-6 p.m. Sept. 17 at Tavern & Tap, 101 S. Washington Square, featuring music, prizes and (every students two favorite words) free food.
But the freshmen won’t be the only newcomers downtown — no less than six new businesses have opened over the summer, and a prominent dance club reinvented itself with a country twang.
Glazed and Confused, 107 S. Washington Square, serves breakfast and lunch, as well as a full line of specialty doughnuts that are made fresh daily. Its eponymous variety is made with scratch yeast and finished with vanilla bean glaze or sugar-coated. There are also be jalapeno chipotle doughnuts, maple bacon bars (with real bacon), raspberry cheesecake and red velvet varieties, as well as a wide variety of muffins and scones. Breakfast sandwich offerings include the soufflé sandwich (egg, gouda, arugula and ham or bacon served on brioche), as well as a breakfast brioche pizza. For lunch, diners can choose from smoked salmon BLTs, Cuban sandwiches and the Day After — think Thanksigiving dinner on sourdough bread.
Other new downtown lunch spots on Washington Avenue include Dominos’ Pizza Theater, the Crafty Palate and Henry’s on the Square. But that’s all for the daytime crowd. For college students, the real action takes place at night.
American Fifth Spirits, 112 N. Larch St., is Lansing’s first distillery, and uses Michigan crops to make its own vodka and white whiskey. And one block north, the Lansing Brewing Co. will soon be resurrected as a microbrewery/restaurant, slated to open sometime this fall. In the meantime, the Beer Grotto, 500 E. Michigan Ave., caters to craft beer hounds who would rather study with a beer next to their laptop.
And downtown’s newest addition is Duke’s Cider House, formerly the Dugout, 414 E. Michigan Ave. The Cider House, which opened last weekend with six hard ciders on tap, is the kid brother to Duke’s Saloon next door. Duke’s Saloon, formerly Harem Urban Lounge, switched gears in May from a techno-heavy dance club to one blending classic rock and country.
“It’s a concept that we saw is working well in other cities, so we brought (it here,)” said Dave Sell, vice president of the Dukes’ parent company, 414 Entertainment. “And we looked at the growing trend of hard cider (manufacturing and consumption), so we thought that would be a good fit as well. Now people are downtown every weekend boot scootin’. It’s fun to see.”
Just don’t forget to finish your homework first.Pho
350 Albert Ave., East Lansing 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (517) 574-4919
Iorilo’s Gelato and Caffé
(opening soon) 1034 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday- Sunday facebook.com/ ioritoseaslansing