“Rightsizing” is one of those business world buzzwords that’s often used to signal dire times for a company. But for Lou & Harry’s, it’s not a euphemism. With the opening last week of Lou & Harry’s Bar & Grill in downtown East Lansing, the local Greek-American diner mini-chain opened its third location — for the second time.
“This is something we’ve been building up to for a while,” said Scott Rolen, who co-owns/co-operates the restaurant with founder Harry Saites. “East Lansing is obviously a prime location, but we needed to find a way to make it work. When this location opened up, we knew it was right.”
That location is 211 E. Grand River Ave., former home of Woody’s Oasis, which closed last year after 15 years in downtown East Lansing. Rolen and Saites sunk “a lot” of money into the building, transforming it into a sleek, modern sports bar, complete with rooftop dining.
“It was a total gut job,” Saites said. “There was really nothing left. This is as brand new a restaurant as you can make.”
Renovation work on the 1,800-square-foot building included new bathrooms, new floors and ceilings, and moving the kitchen off to one side to open up the dining room.
“You can see all the way from the front of the bar to the back now,” Rolen said. “We really tried to take advantage of the space as much as we could.”
This is actually the second time downtown East Lansing is getting a Lou & Harry’s. The first location was on the Ann Street Plaza where the defunct Kasutamu now sits. Saites briefly opened an upscale dining establishment next door before heading north to Chandler Road to open a supersized Lou & Harry’s Sports Bar and Grill in 2012. But that didn’t work out as planned.
“That just wasn’t the right direction for us,” Saites said. “It seemed like a good idea, but things just didn’t work out. It wasn’t the right crowd. But we’ve got the old (neon) sign from there hanging up by the pool table here now. And it looks great.”
Saites also opened a deli location in Okemos near the Meridian Mall, but closed that after two years when his lease ended. Again, he chalks it up to not being a good fit.
“You’ve got to be very in tune with your crowd,” he said. “Out there we were competing with the mall crowd and all those restaurants, and we were drawing people away from our other locations. So it made sense to not renew that lease.”
To the outside observer, Lou & Harry’s may have appeared to be in trouble. The chain even closed its original East Lansing location, 1139 E. Grand River Ave., which opened in 1992. For a short time, there was only the Frandor location, Lou & Harry’s Grill and Bakery, 1429 W. Saginaw St., before something interesting happened.
“I think of Scott as a son, so when he came to me with the idea of opening a Lou & Harry’s in downtown Lansing, I told him I thought it was a great idea,” Saites said. “I thought the concept was perfect for that area.”
Rolen, who had worked for Saites since 2003, opened that restaurant — simply called Lou & Harry’s — at 119 S. Washington Square in 2014. Both men deem that project a success. So when it came time to think of a new location, it made sense to work together again.
“Harry has a grand vision for how he sees this growing, and I think, after all this time, it’s finally on the right track,” Rolen said.
“But we’re done in this area, let me just say that,” Saites interjected. “Maybe Grand Rapids next, maybe Detroit, but there are only so many times you can slice the pie.”
Speaking of pie, Lou & Harry’s Bar and Grill features most of the same items you’ll find at the other locations, including the spinach pie, original and chicken gyros, burgers, sandwiches and salads. Recent additions include the Greek fries, which come loaded with feta cheese and housemade jus lié sauce (think Greek poutine). There’s also the old Greek standby, saganaki, aka flaming cheese — opa! But this place also has something neither of the other locations has: a liquor license.
“We’ve already had people (who remember the Ann Street location) demanding to know if we’re bringing back Fiesta Fridays and some of our other drink and food specials, so we really had no choice,” Saites said. “We used to have lines out the door.”
This week marks the re-debut of Fiesta Friday, which features $1 tacos and margarita and Mexican beer specials. There are also food specials throughout the week, a build-your-own bloody Mary bar on Sundays and specially priced mixed drink mini-pitchers on Saturdays, appealing to the built-in MSU crowd. But it’s not just the student population being targeted.
“We’re trying to hit all demographics — this is not a college bar, and it’s not an older person’s bar,” Rolen said. “We want all ages to feel comfortable. And so far, it seems like we’re getting that.”
Lou & Harry’s Bar and Grill 211 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily (517) 657-2762, louhas.com