March 1 2017 01:04 PM


Despite a flurry of new businesses flocking to Metro Lansing to take advantage of the rebounding economy and abundance of new urban housing options, there’s been a curious burst of bar/restaurant closings that has raised eyebrows around the area. But despite the ever-growing roster of empty eateries, there’s still a steady stream of incoming business.

The latest casualty is downtown East Lansing confectionary Velvet A Candy Store, 507 E. Grand River Ave. Last week, its owners announced through the business’ Facebook page that they had decided to close after a year and a half, but there was a glimmer of hope in that message.

“Thank you everyone for your business and support these past couple years and stay tuned as we will keep you posted on our next location and adventure,” the statement said. “(W)e are actively pursuing new locations in the East Lansing area and hope to be open again very soon.”

East Lansing eatery Conrad’s Grill, which recently closed its location at 101 E. Grand River Ave., also announced via social media that it was planning to open a new location in the area “shortly.” Since 2008, it held down the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue and even expanded to two other locations — 1219 E. Grand River Ave. and a store in the Frandor Shopping Center. But the papered windows at its prominent downtown location does leave a noticeable gap in an otherwise bustling college town shopping district.

If and when they do reopen, both sets of owners will have their pick of spaces to choose from. From Delta Township on the west side of town to Okemos in the east, and from Old Town in the north to Holt in the south, there are nearly three dozen empty retail spaces that were bars or restaurants within the last five years — more than half of which closed in the last 12 months. If you take into account unclaimed slots in recently completed mixed-use developments, the number of potential restaurant locations stands at over 50. Charitably speaking, it’s a renter’s market.

One of these vacancies is Art’s Bar, 809 E. Kalamazoo St., just east of downtown Lansing. Two weeks before the longtime sports bar was shuttered last August, owner Rick Yager waved off claims that it was closing, saying that it was “false information.” An anonymous source had said at the time that the business was in a state of receivership, meaning the property had become the subject of a legal dispute and had been placed under the control of an independent party. A search of court records could not confirm this standing, but the building is currently bankowned, and the city of Lansing’s tax assessor website shows an outstanding payment of $5,527.74 due. Owner Rick Yager did not return multiple calls for comment, and his exwife, former Art’s Bar co-owner Nancy Yager, declined to speak on the record.

Another recent restaurant closing marks the first victim of Lansing’s barbecue boom. King of the Grill, 4400 N. Grand River Ave., adjacent to the Capital Region International Airport in northwest Lansing, closed last month with nary a warning. Owner/operator Jeff Mendoza, who opened King of the Grill in 2011 and eventually launched a public access cooking show of the same name, did not return a call for comment. Barbecue fans need not fret, however: Saddleback BBQ in REO Town recently announced a new location coming soon to Okemos, and Meat Southern BBQ and Carnivore Cuisine in Old Town has started teasing “something cool coming down the pipes.” Stay tuned.

Several empty — in some cases, longdormant — properties have been promising new concepts, but work has been slow going for each. In May 2015, Bill Bonofiglo announced that he intended to reopen Mr. Taco, the Mexican fast-casual restaurant started by his father in 1967, at its original location, 3122 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Bonofiglo started a private Facebook group that, for the last two years, has generated outpourings of both support and frustration from customers who want to know when the restaurant will actually reopen. Bonofiglo has repeatedly said on the Facebook page that funding has taken longer than anticipated. Bonofiglo said he’s performing renovation work on the building himself as he simultaneously works to secure funding to reopen. He has also said that last year’s lawsuit pertaining to recipes has nothing to do with the restaurant’s delay.

For the last five months, a sign in the window of the former Lansing A&W, 4919 W. Saginaw Highway, has promised the opening of Nu-Wave Fish & Chicken, a Detroit-based, you-buy-we-fry mini-chain. The owner said that he’s been caught up in “the city’s approval process” but promises an opening by spring, right around the time of the opening of the Grid, 226 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town. The bar/arcade will breathe new life into one of the city’s more iconic properties, built as a bank in the 1920s. Announcements are also expected soon for what will come of the former Clara’s Lansing Station, 637 E. Michigan Ave. in downtown Lansing. Last year, the Gillespie Group development company purchased the historic property. And sometime early this year, the area’s first Golden Corral, a national buffet chain, will open in the building that formerly housed Fire Mountain at 730 Elmwood Road.

Coming soon: Green Dot Stables, the third location for a successful Detroit bar and grill, is set to open this year in East Lansing; Chik Fil-A will open an Okemos location less than a year after the debut of its west Lansing store; and two new-construction bars: Arcadia Ales & Smokehouse in Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood and Punk Taco near Frandor, are showing signs of progress.

So for everyone keeping track at home, here are some of Metro Lansing’s notable bar/restaurant vacancies, listed geographically by the name of the most recent business that used the space. Announcements for some of these have been rumored, and we’ll be reporting on them as soon as we can. In the meantime, future restaurateurs, here are some possibly spaces to launch your dream:

Okemos/Meridian Township
• Traveler’s Club, 2138 Hamilton Road
• Paul Revere’s Tavern, 2703 E. Grand River Ave.

East Lansing/Lansing Township
• Cosi, 301 E. Grand River Ave.
• Emo’s Korean Restaurant, 901 Trowbridge Road
• Tripper’s, 350 Frandor Ave.
• Max & Erma’s, 2515 Lake Lansing Road
• Tony Sacco’s, 2328 Showtime Drive

Downtown Lansing/Old Town
• The Temple Club, 502 E. Grand River Ave.
• Bonnie’s Place, 415 E. Saginaw St.
• Art’s Bar, 809 E. Kalamazoo St.
• The Corner Bar, 505 E. Shiawassee St.
• 621, 621 E. Michigan Ave.
• The Beer Grotto, 500 E. Michigan Ave. #100
• Rum Runners, 601 E. Michigan Ave.
• Hot Chicken Kitchen, 123 S. Washington Square
• House of Eden Rock, 205 S. Washington Square
• Black Rose, 206 S. Washington Square
• Henry’s on the Square, 229 S. Washington Square
• Crafty Palate, 333 S. Washington Square
• Tini Bikinis, 511 E. Hazel St.

South Lansing/Holt
• Pizza Hut, 3218 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
• Colonial Bar & Grill, 3425 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
• Penn Avenue Diner, 6031 S. Pennsylvania Ave.
• House of Ing, 4113 S. Cedar St.
• Uli’s Haus of Rock, 4519 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
• Chick’n & Fix’ns, 6333 S. Cedar St.
• Famous Dave’s, 2457 S. Cedar St.

West Lansing
• Irish Pub & Grill, 1910 W. Saginaw St.
• King of the Grill, 4400 N. Grand River Ave.
• Old Country Buffet, 5002 W. Saginaw Hwy.

Do you know of a new Greater Lansing business that should be featured in New in Town? Send an email to allan@lansingcitypulse.com.