Thanks in part to Metro Lansing’s vibrant Hispanic community, local diners have no shortage of choices for reputable Mexican cuisine. And coming soon to a scene already full of Cancuns, Aztecos, and Amigos are two new southof-the-border restaurants, albeit ones with decidedly different pedigrees.
The first out of the gate is Los Rancheros, set to open next weekend at 727 E. Miller Road on Lansing’s south side. Manager Gregorio Lozana said he and his cousin, owner Juan Cruz, are aiming for an “upscale, elegant” ambiance. They’ve spent the last couple of months overseeing the renovation of the 5,000-square-foot building, previously home to Barley’s American Grill.
“We like the location — there are a lot of Latino people in the area,” Lozana said. “We think there’s a good future here.”
Original plans called for Los Rancheros to transform into a nightclub on weekends, but Lozana said that he and Cruz decided to focus on the food for now. He said the restaurant will lean heavily on authentic Mexican fare and will have a full liquor license.
Meanwhile, the area’s other new Mexican restaurant will have sensibilities that are a little more rebellious. Dig this name: Punk Taco.
“I loved punk (rock) when I was a kid, and it just seemed like the name fit our concept,” says Sam Short, a partner in Punk Taco’s management group, the Potent Potables Project. And what might that concept be? “Tacos, tamales and tequila. Everything people love about Mexican (restaurants).”
The group broke ground on Punk Taco this week near Frandor Shopping Center. It will be a new construction, built on the site of a former gas station across the street from Ya-Ya’s Flame Broiled Chicken. Short said that there will be two distinct elements of Punk Taco.
“One part will be dedicated to sit-down dining and another part dedicated to carryout orders,” Short said. “And we’ll have coolers stocked with craft beer ready to go, so you can grab a six-pack while you’re in line. It’s going to make a lot of people happy.”
Punk Taco will be the fourth project on Potent Potables Project’s slate, which started two years ago with the refurbished Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern. It continued with Cosmos, which opened earlier this year, followed by the Creole, 1218 Turner St., which starts serving dinner Nov. 20.
“Creole has been open for drinks for a couple months, but it’s taken us a little longer to get food going than we thought,” Short said. “We wanted everything to be perfect, so we didn’t want to rush.”
Executive Chef Dan Konopnicki, who is currently finalizing Punk Taco’s food items, stocked Creole’s menu with simmering N’awlins staples, including gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée. It will be the third Cajun restaurant to open in Lansing this year, following Nola Bistro and Jumbeaux. It will be joined on Dec. 1 by the Creole Coffee Co., Creole’s sister breakfast joint/café. Opening next door to the Creole, Creole Coffee Co. will feature classic Cajun items like shrimp-and-grits and beignets. In a way, it seems inevitable that Creole cooking would come to this space.
“Before (the late) Robert Busby turned this into the Creole Gallery, this was home to the Creole Cigar Co.,” Smith said. “Robert was paying tribute to the building’s history when he named it, and now we’re paying tribute to Robert.”
Flats gets Strange The other big news this week was the Gillespie Co.’s announcement that it would level part of the 2000 block of Michigan Avenue to make way for a $6 million, mixeduse development project, the East Town Flats. Owner Scott Gillespie completed his purchase of the block earlier this year, and had previously hinted about building a combined retail/living space there. Following the evacuation of Emil’s Restaurant, which closed last month after an historic 87-year-run, Gillespie said the plans changed drastically.
“The three (westernmost) buildings are functionally obsolete, so we made a decision early on that they would come down,” Gillespie said. “But when Emil’s became available, we went back to the drawing board.”
Gillespie had just finished restoring the three easternmost buildings on that block, home to Wild Strawberry Florist, Local Tattoo and Original Okinawa Karate Dojo, so he knew those were in good shape. That leaves only the building occupied by Capital City Homebrew Supply.
“The building just wasn’t that well maintained,” Gillespie said. “It’s suffered a lot of water intrusion and the brick is blowing out. I talked to (Homebrew Supply owner Todd Branstner) and tried to find him a space. He found a great location where I think he’s going to do very well.”
On Jan. 3, Capital City Homebrew Supply will open at 621 E. Michigan Ave., its fourth location in three years. Branstner did not return a call for comment.
The 11,500-square-foot ground floor will accommodate five to eight businesses, including Strange Matter Coffee Co., which was announced as the first tenant.
“I’d been looking to do some expansion, and I wanted to stay on the east side, so this worked out perfectly,” said Strange Matter owner Cara Nader. “I’m glad I got to meet Scott. He would try to have meetings here, but there was never enough room. One time I told him I wish we had more space, and then he said he could make that happen.”
Nader’s move is loosely scheduled for spring 2017, when East Town Flats is complete. Gillespie hasn’t said who else is in discussions for occupancy, but is trying to stay in tune with the neighborhood.
“I was born and raised on the east side, so I feel a great responsibility to the neighborhood,” Gillespie said. “And I’m listening to what the neighbors say. Do they want a yoga studio? More restaurants? Whatever goes in there, I want to make sure that I’m staying true to the east side spirit.”