Dec. 14 2016 12:26 AM

Ruckus Ramen / Lotsa Pizza / Famous Dave's / Crafty Palate

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

The Avenue Café is swapping American fast food for Japanese fast food. In mid-January, local DJ/aspiring restaurateur Steve “DJ Ruckus” Swart will transform his recent pop-up restaurant experiment, Ruckus Ramen, into a full-time gig, operating out of the Avenue’s kitchen.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for years,” Swart said. “One of the great things about living in Lansing is the willingness of (business owners) to collaborate and take chances with new ideas. You don’t see that in bigger cities.”

Swart is planning a Tuesday through Saturday dinner hour schedule for Ruckus Ramen when it opens next month at the Avenue, 2021 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood. He hosted two sold-out ramen dinner pop-ups there — one in November and another last week — giving him confidence that Lansing will be receptive to the cuisine. Swart worked with local chefs to hone the menu, which offers traditional Japanese soup dishes, salads and dumplings, all sourced with local ingredients and tweaked to appeal to American palates. Ruckus Ramen will be the second ramen restaurant in Metro Lansing, following the opening of Sapporo Ramen and Noodle Bar in East Lansing earlier this year.

“We’re doing things a little different from (Sapporo),” Swart said. “I think they’re more traditional, and we’re a little more experimental with what we’re doing. But there’s plenty of room for good ramen in Lansing.”

Last year, Avenue Café owner Colleen Kelly made the novel decision to turn her kitchen into a business incubator. Rather than have her own kitchen manager, she decided to contract local entrepreneurs to use her facility, giving them a chance to experiment with their own menus and build a following. For Kelly, it was a win-win.

“I was never able to get my kitchen where I wanted it to be for my customers, and (turning it into an incubator) solved that problem,” Kelly said. “It also created an opportunity for someone creative to try something that they might not otherwise have the resources for. I liked the flexibility it offered.”

Her first taker was Rick Sauer, who launched his gourmet burgers-and-poutine concept, Nomad Kitchen, out of the Avenue in September 2015. What started as a six-month lease was extended through January 2017, but last month Sauer was offered an assistant general manager position at the Creole in Old Town. Both Sauer and Kelly said the departure was amicable, although it does leave the Avenue without food service for about a month. Still, Kelly was in high spirits earlier this week.

“Steve is going to be a great addition to the east side,” she said. “His pop-ups were very popular, and he brings a great energy with him. And I’m really looking forward to eating ramen every day.”

Fired up

Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza, a new fastcasual pizza chain, will take over the former home of American Apparel in East Lansing early next year. Construction crews are currently renovating the space at 115 E. Grand River Ave. to transform the former retail store into Lotsa’s sixth national location.

“It’s an assembly-line style restaurant, like Chipotle or Subway,” said spokeswoman Jenna Martino. “We pride ourselves on being fast and using the freshest ingredients. And the stone-firing gives the pizza crust a great combination of chewy and crunchy.”

Although the other locations offer beer and wine, the East Lansing restaurant will not have a liquor license. The first Lotsa opened in West Virginia in October 2015, with additional restaurants opening in college towns in Maryland, Wisconsin and Indiana since then.

“Fast-casual and pizza both do well near college campuses, so it’s a good fit,” Martino said. “We’re really looking forward to being in East Lansing.”

Famous no more

After a three-year run, the Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant in Holt abruptly closed on Monday due to “low sales volume.” Operating partner Jerrid Heidel said staff was notified on Sunday night.

“We were trying to stay open until after (the holidays), but a business transaction forced our hand,” Heidel said. “It’s been rough. We’ve been losing $5,000 a week. We’re selling well below what the minimum projection was for this location.”

Famous Dave’s is the latest high-profile Metro Lansing restaurant to be shuttered within the last month, following the unexpected closures of Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza and Max & Erma’s in the Eastwood Towne Center and the Beer Grotto in downtown Lansing. Heidel said despite the location’s loss, which he puts at over $200,000 this year alone, he and his partners would still be interested in opening another Metro Lansing store.

“We really like this area and the community, but we just need a higher volume location,” Heidel said. “The flow of traffic and the economics on this side of town just didn’t work. We make everything from scratch, and that equates to (a lot of waste) if you have soft lunches and abbreviated dinners, which is what was happening. After a while, it just became painful.”

Crafty exit

Last week, Crafty Palate, 333 S. Washington Square in downtown Lansing, announced it will permanently close on Dec. 21. The news came via the business’ Facebook page.

“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the closing of Crafty Palate Restaurant & Deli,” the statement read. “It was our extreme pleasure to have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and holidays with so many. We are very thankful for our family, friends and regular guests and sincerely hope to see everybody one last time to express our gratitude for your support and to spread some holiday cheer before we go.”

Husband-and-wife team Tim and Peggy Pinter opened Crafty Palate in May 2015. Manager Colleen Dick said that although the restaurant had many loyal customers, it struggled to connect with the downtown dining crowd.

“There just isn’t enough traffic coming in the door,” Dick said. “We had a lot of parties and group events, but the day-to-day business wasn’t enough.”

Dick said the outpour of support from the restaurant’s regulars has been “overwhelming,” and while there won’t be any official farewell party, the restaurant is booked through its closing day with holiday parties.

“We’ll be partying every night,” Dick said. “I don’t know if (the owners) plan to open another restaurant anytime soon, but you never know. There’s always a chance for a Christmas miracle.”