July 27 2016 01:20 PM

East Town / The Creole / Blue Owl Coffee Co.

The Gillespie Co. razed several buildings on the 2000 block of East Michigan Avenue this week, including the former home of Emil's Restaurant. East Town, a mixed-use development, will be built on the site.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

Lansing’s normally subdued Eastside Neighborhood was rattled by massive demolition work as two big construction projects got underway earlier this week. Concrete work began at 2101 E. Michigan Ave., the former PNC Bank that will soon be home to the Arcadia Ale and Smokehouse, an offshoot of the southwest Michigan-based Arcadia Ales brewery/restaurant. And on the south side of East Michigan Avenue’s 2000 block, a row of decaying buildings were razed to make way for the Gillespie Co.’s mixed-use development project, East Town.

“It’s exciting to get started,” said Gillespie Co. President Scott Gillespie. “It’s going to be a long road ahead, but this was the exciting visual part. It went quick.”

Gillespie said it will take a couple of weeks to complete the demo work, including sorting materials into the waste stream and filling holes in the ground. Then his company will move forward with foundation work for the nearly 12,000-square-foot building that will contain 39 high-end residential units and several businesses. The first commercial tenant, Strange Matter Coffee Co., has already announced its move from across the street into one of the new 2,100-square-foot spaces. And on Tuesday, Gillespie confirmed that someone had just signed a lease for a 3,100-square-foot slot that will be home to a new restaurant.

“The owner’s not quite ready to go public, but we’ll be announcing that soon,” Gillespie said. “They have a fantastic story. It’s going to be such a great fit for the neighborhood.”

Gillespie also teased a spa, a workout facility and an “art-related business” as other potential ground floor tenants, but no deals were yet in place for those. He expects East Town will be able to accommodate four to six businesses, with all work expected to be complete by next summer. He also has plans to honor that block’s most famous former tenant, Emil’s Restaurant.

“We took quite a bit out of Emil’s, including some signs and some memorabilia,” Gillespie said. “We also pulled some marble, which we’ll try to use as a bar in the new restaurant. We really want to pay our respects to Emil’s, which was part of the Eastside for so long. It will be a nice way to maintain the story of this neighborhood.”

Moving and merging

After seven months of identity issues and general name confusion, Old Town’s conjoined twin businesses, Creole Coffee Co., a breakfast/lunch café, and the Creole, a dinner-only bistro, have been combined into a single entity. Henceforth, the Creole will serve both lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and add brunch service on weekends. The Creole Coffee Co. name will be dropped, and that storefront will be reserved for special events.

“People were getting confused with the two names and the different hours, so it made sense for us to just merge the two and rebrand,” said Sam Short, co-owner of Potent Potables Project, the restaurant group that owns the Creole and fellow Old Town eatery/bar combo Zoobie's/Cosmos.

“Lunch has been much busier than breakfast (during the week),” Short added, “So we decided to shift our focus to what we’re doing successfully. Our main goal is to sell outstanding food, and if our messaging is confused, it’s not good.”

Another reason for the shift is the debut of the Creole’s patio, which will add another 35 seats to the sidewalk area out front when it opens next weekend, just in time for Lansing JazzFest.

“This will streamline the kitchen and open up (the Creole Coffee Co. side) for more event rentals,” Short said. “We’d been renting it out in the evenings and getting lots of requests for things like board meetings during the day. It’s a really neat space, and this move will help maximize its use.”

The changes also bring a bigger lunch menu and expanded happy hour times, which feature $1 oysters as well as beer, wine and cocktail specials from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The weekend brunch menu will maintain the staples: chicken and waffles, variations on eggs Benedict and both sweet and savory crêpe offerings.

“This move also means brunch items will be coming out a lot faster on the weekends,” Short said. “People were waiting for 30 minutes for a table, then another 30 minutes before their food came out. An hour is a long time to wait in the morning after a long night. Hopefully we can bring that time way down.”

Mobile joe

Downtown Lansing java junkies will soon have a new way to get their caffeine fix, complete with its own delivery method. Blue Owl Coffee Co., a café coming next January to REO Town, will launch its “coffee bike” in early August. It’s a four-wheeled “quad” bicycle that’s been outfitted with a special coffee-filled refrigerated keg that will serve nitro-delivered cold-brew coffee.

“It’s like a beer, but with a coffee,” said Blue Owl co-owner/co-operator Nick Berry. “It has a creamy, robust flavor with no acid and a little sweetness, like chocolate. We think people are going to go nuts (for it.)”

The bike is enabled with GPS tracking, allowing customers to track the bike’s progress as it works its way among downtown businesses. Berry said there will also be a stationary equivalent in front of Blue Owl’s future home, 1149 S. Washington Ave., to complement the bike and start driving traffic to REO Town.

“This is such a wonderful neighborhood, and we can’t wait to be a part of it,” Berry said. “(No full-time business) has been in this building since the ‘80s, so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But work has begun, and this bike will hopefully get the word out about us and get the interest up.”

For updates on Blue Owl, including the launch of the coffee bike, go to facebook.com/miblueowl.

The Creole 1210 Turner St., Lansing Kitchen hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch) & 5-10 p.m. (dinner) Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (brunch) & 5-10 p.m. (dinner) Saturday-Sunday; bar opens at 4 p.m. daily (517) 371-1361, thecreolelansing. com

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