Dec. 7 2016 09:48 AM

Rusty Nail / Beer Grotto / Max & Erma's / Chun Chi

Last month, restaurateur Jeff Oade added roll-up, garage-style doors to his REO Town building. He’ll spend the next year transforming that space into a restaurant named the Rusty Nail.
Allan I. Ross/City Pulse

As REO Town continues its gradual shift from gritty historic district into gritty cultural mecca, even longtime business owners are getting in on the action. Last month, restaurateur Jeff Oade started work with a developer to renovate the storefront at 1210 S. Washington Ave. in the heart of REO Town. Oade will spend the next year transforming it into the Rusty Nail, a new restaurant that will be part of the neighborhood’s ongoing transformation.

“It’s been exciting watching the rest of REO Town being developed, and I thought it was a good time to do something,” Oade said. “But I wanted to do something special — I didn’t just want another bar.”

The building, directly across from the Lansing Board of Water & Light’s REO Town cogeneration plant, also features four apartment units above the restaurant space. Oade said the build-out will cost about $150,000 and will include a brand new kitchen. Last month he punched two giant holes in the streetfacing walls and added garage-style roll-up doors, which will give future Rusty Nail patrons access to the elements.

“It’s a big space, and the doors will open up to a big patio, giving it a nice, open feel,” Oade said. “It’s going to look very different from what people may remember it as.”

In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the building was home to Oade’s Hidden Camel, a low-key dive bar/ performance venue. It closed seven years ago. Before that it was Mac’s Saloon, one of four Mac’s-branded locations in Metro Lansing owned by Oade’s family. Of the four, only one remains: Mac’s Bar, 2700 E. Michigan Ave. on Lansing’s east side.

“Twenty years ago, there used to be lines around the block to get in to that place six nights a week,” Oade said. “It’s a great location, and I’m glad they still seem to be doing (well).”

Oade also owns/operates Oade’s Bar & Grill, 936 Elmwood Road on Lansing’s west side, near the Lansing Mall. He said he’s working with a chef to create a menu for the Rusty Nail, but nothing has been finalized yet.

“It’s going to take about a year to get it ready, so there’s plenty of time to work on the menu,” Oade said. “I’m not rushing things. I want to make sure this is as perfect as we can get it and that it will be a good fit for the neighborhood.”

Down and out

Following the surprise closing of Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza two weeks ago, two more high profile Metro Lansing eateries have called it quits within the last week. Tony Sacco’s Eastwood Towne Center neighbor Max & Erma’s closed last week, and on Monday, downtown Lansing craft beer destination Beer Grotto was shuttered. Owners of both businesses were unavailable for comment.

Earlier this year, Max & Erma’s, a national chain based in Nashville, Tenn., closed 13 of its restaurants across the country, including eight in Michigan. The Eastwood closing was announced via a sign posted in the window. The Beer Grotto made its announcement through Facebook.

“Dear Beer Friends,” the post read. “With deep sadness, we regret to inform you all that the Beer Grotto- Lansing will be permanently closed for business effective today (…) Always remember: It's not about the glass being half-full or half-empty, the point is the glass is refillable.”

The Beer Grotto anchored the west side of the Stadium District, a mixed-use development project owned and operated by the Gillespie Group. There is no word yet as to what will become of the 4,200-square-foot space. Stay tuned.

Asian persuasion

Chun Chi, an authentic Chinese restaurant, opened near Frandor last month. The building, previously home to Schwartz’s Deli and a Mr. Taco location, had been sitting idle for over a year. Chef Jim Guo said that the owner, Chun Chi — who the restaurant is named after — wanted to offer Lansing palates a genuine taste of China.

“You’re getting authentic Chinese flavor in these dishes,” Guo said. “There are some Americanized items on the lunch menu, but I’d say for 95 percent of our menu, it’s all straight from China.”

Most items are priced under $10, with the lunch buffet coming it at $5.25. Guo said all ingredients are sourced from local Asian grocery stores, which import a lot of spices and specialty items. Guo lists the menu’s fish dishes and hot pots as being most representative of the restaurant’s authenticity.

“We also leave the bone in on our chicken and beef dishes, so you get that extra flavor,” Guo said. “Americans don’t seem to like picking meat off the bone, but in Chinese cooking, that’s what it’s all about.”

Chun Chi
521 N. Clippert St., Lansing
11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
(517) 708-0616