Seven years after its debut inside a Marathon gas station near downtown Lansing, Jose’s Cuban Sandwich & Deli returns to that original location, 401 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Thursday. For owner/operator Jose Miroquesada, it’s a bittersweet move. On Dec. 6, a fire inside the sandwich shop’s Groesbeck Neighborhood location left Miroquesada’s business temporarily homeless.
“The last month has been tough,” Miroquesada said. “Thankfully, all my regular customers have been able to find me and keep business going. But I needed a place to move into quickly, and this was my only option.”
He worked out a short-term deal with Colleen Kelly, owner of the Avenue Café on Lansing’s east side, but that deal ended this week.
“I would have loved to have stayed there — it’s a great location,” Miroquesada said. “But I understand (it was only temporary). I’m very grateful to Colleen for opening her kitchen to me. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how I would have been able to survive.”
Miroquesada went solo with Jose’s Cuban Sandwich in 2010 after spending years working in other restaurants. He moved to Michigan from New York in the mid-‘90s to work for a friend who had opened a Chinese restaurant in Kalamazoo.
When that owner opened another location in East Lansing in 2003, Miroquesada relocated to help open Oodles of Noodles inside the former Pretzel Bell building on Trowbridge Road. He took over operations shortly before it closed in 2009. The building was leveled in 2015; the site is now a parking lot for the adjacent Trowbridge Village Shopping Center.
“I had a lot of ideas, but it was a bad time to take over a restaurant that wasn’t doing well, and I lost a lot of money,” Miroquesada said. “I honestly wanted nothing to do with restaurants again after that. It’s the business that I know the best, but that really hurt me.”
He eventually allowed himself to be pulled back in, first managing a local Indian restaurant, then moving into East Lansing’s bustling sushi scene. The owner of Sushi & Deli, a short-lived restaurant across from campus, allowed Miroquesada to experiment with sandwiches.
“I told him, you do the sushi, I’ll do the deli,” Miroquesada said. “And slowly, I started to work out some recipes and it started catching on with students and East Lansing folks. That was the beginning.”
After Sushi & Deli closed in 2010, Miroquesada worked out a deal to take over the food counter inside the Lansing Marathon gas station at the corner of Kalamazoo Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. There he built up a full menu filled with hot and cold sandwiches, wraps and salads, all built around the Media Noche (the Midnight), Miroquesada’s version of a traditional Cuban standby. It’s a mighty sandwich, piled with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, onion, mustard and mayo, served on a sweet bun.
“The roast pork on that is my grandma’s recipe,” Miroquesada said. “This sandwich has the taste from my childhood. It’s filled with happy memories.”
Other top sellers include the artichoke chicken sandwich (slathered with a cheesy artichoke spinach dip) the Island Sandwich (with grilled roast beef, banana peppers and Thousand Island dressing) and the sausage platter. After a successful year, Miroquesada opened a second location inside a Groesbeck gas station, 2315 E. Grand River Ave., and in 2012 he closed the Marathon shop. He had only done carryout and delivery up to that point, but the new location had five tables, and Miroquesada started to develop a sit-down crowd as well. But then last month, a small fire in his dry storage area forced him to close, and Miroquesada became entangled in a web of insurance woes.
“Basically, the owner wanted me to pay for the damages to the building, but my insurance only covered my business, which was only in part of the building,” Miroquesada said. “I came to the Avenue while we were working it out, even though I knew it was only going to be for a short time, but in the end it was able to give me the time I needed.”
After taking a day off for inspection, Miroquesada anticipates reopening Thursday in time for the weekend. The new location has no seats, something Miroquesada is looking for in a permanent location, which could happen later this year.
“I saw a lot of places when I was looking to reopen, but none of them could get me in as quickly as I was able to get in here,” Miroquesada said. “I’m definitely going to keep looking for my own place, hopefully somewhere on the east side. It will be nice to have tables again. But I don’t want to be too big — I think I like it small.”
Eastside by design
Shortly after plans were revealed last week for Provident Place at East Town, a new mixed-use development project being developed by the Gillespie Co. on the 2200 block of Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood, social media lit up decrying aspects of the new construction. Complaints included its contemporary color scheme and its staggered, variegated façade. Gillespie Co. president Scott Gillespie said he takes concerns seriously.
“Someone called these pastel colors, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Gillespie said. “We worked with a color consultant to develop a palette of earth colors, including these deeper greens and subdued browns, that were specifically meant to fit in with the Eastside community. I don’t think that comes through on the rendering. And we spent months talking with nearby residents about how they wanted the exterior to look, and one aspect that most people mentioned was they wanted it to look like several buildings instead of one monolithic structure, which is how we arrived at this design.”
Another point of contention has been the fact that two commercial buildings, one built in 1969, the other in 1925, will be leveled before Provident Place can go up. Last year Gillespie heard similar complaints when he tore down seven vacant buildings two blocks over, where his Venue at East Town development is currently being erected. He described those buildings as “functionally obsolete,” but said the situation at 2200 is different.
“The soil here is contaminated, so part of this project (entails) a massive cleanup of the grounds,” Gillespie said. “Years ago, there was a service station here, and there were underground storage tanks that had gasoline and then heating oil that now need to be cleaned up. The first thing we look at is the possibility of bringing a building back to its historic integrity if there is some, but that wasn’t possible here.”
Pending several city and state approvals, Gillespie anticipates construction on Provident Place to begin this fall, with a projected fall 2018 completion.
Jose’s Cuban Sandwich & Deli
401 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Lansing (inside Marathon gas station)
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-9 p.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday
josescubansandwichmi.com, (517) 374-6832