Metro Lansing has an ample supply of specialty boutiques and artisan clothing and jewelry shops, but sometimes you don’t have all day to peruse Old Town’s eclectic wares or take a day trip to downtown Williamston for that perfect whatever. Maybe you’ve realized that you don’t fit into any of your dress pants for the wedding you’re attending this weekend, or perhaps you just need to grab a last-minute gift on your way to the office for your coworker’s going away party. The mall is every shopper’s guilty — or not-so-guilty — fallback. And even though it’s August, you’d better believe those shops are already counting down the shopping days to Christmas, every mall’s raison d’etre.
And with shoppers come appetites that can’t necessarily be sated in food courts. Retail districts beget restaurant districts, and the environs of Meridian Mall are fertile noshing grounds. More than two dozen eateries can be found within a half-mile, including Asian Buffet, which has undergone some big changes in the last three years. The latest change is also the one that will probably get it added to the list of must-stops for many frustrated souls come December: the addition of a liquor license and a brand new adjacent gastropub, Henry’s Place.
“A good restaurant is always growing, always doing something to try to stay ahead,” said Asian Buffet owner/ operator Henry Kwok. “I don’t have a restaurant background — my degree’s in supply chain management — but I understand that having the best food isn’t enough. You have to be the kind of place that people will seek out. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Asian Buffet is a family business that employs many members of Kwok’s clan. His mother opened the restaurant in 1998 in the strip mall adjacent to Marshall’s, in the Target complex.
“Back then, it was only a two-and-half-table buffet, but we’ve since grown it to 16 tables,” Kwok said. “People want variety nowadays, and we’ve done our best to keep up with what the other restaurants in the area are doing, not limiting it to (Asian cuisine). I think we’re more well-rounded and better because of it.”
In addition to Chinese buffet staples like General Tso’s chicken and wonton soup, Asian Buffet added a sushi station and a Mongolian barbecue station in 2013. There are also decidedly non-Asian items, including meatloaf, baked chicken and hand-dipped ice cream. But last year, Kwok decided that beer, wine and mixed drinks were the future.
“My goal has always been to take this restaurant to the next level,” Kwok said. “And adding a liquor license was a central part of that. I wanted to make a destination for people who aren’t necessarily (mall shoppers) but also take advantage of the (foot traffic) this area brings.”
It’s taken the better part of a year for Kwok, 31, to secure the liquor license, execute the build out for Henry’s Place, formerly the site of a Christian bookstore, and plan a specialty menu. By definition, gastropubs tend to skew a little more creative, food-wise, than typical bars.
“We’re still working on the final menu, but we’re definitely going to be featuring things like mussels, poutine and oysters Rockefeller,” Kwok said. “Any restaurant can add craft beer, and many of them are lately, but I think by adding interesting food items, we’re really going to stand out.”
Asian Buffet will also reap the benefits of the liquor license, allowing diners to see how well a Screaming Pumpkin Ale goes with sesame chicken and fried rice. (My best guess: quite nicely.) The expansion allowed Kwok to grow that dining room floor to over 3,600 square feet, with Henry’s Place taking up the front half of the new storefront.
The name, originally announced as Pub Meridian, underwent an 11th hour change when a Meridian Township agreement with the nearby big box stores dictated that a name with “pub” or “bar” wouldn’t jive with the commercial district.
“I sort of had to come up with a name on the fly, and Henry’s Place was it,” Kwok said. “I think it sounds like a welcoming, friendly place. I never dreamed of having my name on a bar, but it’s nice.”
Beagle’s Café and Bakery, named after owner Charles Beagle, celebrates one year of business next week. The Grand Ledge eatery offers freebies and in-store specials every day next week, starting Monday. Located in a storefront formerly occupied by Sweet Linda’s Café, Beagle’s Café and Bakery specializes in sandwiches, salads and baked goods made from scratch.
“I wanted the cafe to feel like a second home for our customers,” Beagle said. “Delicious food and affordable prices has always been the goal from the get go, but so has creating a comfortable environment and welcoming atmosphere that keeps those customers coming back.”
Beagle also sells his baked goods at Horrocks and at five local farmers markets.
“It keeps me busy, but to see my cafe full with baked goods and then to hear the compliments from customers after its all sold is the best feeling,” Beagle said. “It’s truly a labor of love.”
Henry’s Place 4926 Marsh Road, Okemos 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday (517) 580-3075, pubmeridian.com
Beagle’s Café and Bakery 214B S. Bridge St., Grand Ledge 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday (517) 622-4600, facebook.com/beaglescafeandbakery