Louisiana-based chain Sam’s Southern Eatery is on track to open next week at the former location of Jackie’s Diner in south Lansing, which closed earlier this month. Store owners Tracy and Moe Elbahga and Sam’s spokesman Michael Kalel stand in front of the upcoming restaurant, which will focus on cooking styles typical of Louisiana kitchens. Allan I. Ross/City Pulse
After three moves around the Capital City in its 13 years, Jackie’s Diner quietly, permanently closed earlier this month at its final incarnation, 3812 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. But while Lansing may have lost a greasy spoon, it’s about to gain an authentic Southern kitchen. Early next month, Louisiana-based chain Sam’s Southern Eatery is set to open a restaurant in that south Lansing location, specializing in food hailing from the Pelican State.
“There’s something special about Louisiana cooking that makes it different from other types of Southern styles,” said Sam’s spokesman Michael Kalel. “The focus is on being fast, inexpensive and full of fresh flavor. And Sam’s is as authentic as it gets. If you’ve never been to Louisiana, we’re a perfect introduction.”
Company founder Sam Gazawaneh opened the first location in in Shreveport, La., in 2008. There are now 59 locations in 10 states. The Lansing location arrives on the heels of the chain’s first Midwest location, which opened in Waterford, Mich., earlier this month. Kalel, who’s been with the company since 2011, was instrumental in bringing Sam’s to Michigan.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business in Michigan for over 40 years, but when I joined Sam’s, I started having to travel (outside the state) 75 percent of the time,” Kalel said. “My family got sick of that, so I started talking to Sam about opening a location here in Michigan. Now here we are with two, and the goal is to have 10 more open (in Michigan) soon. My wife is happy.”
Sam’s opening is part of an intriguing mini-trend in local cuisine. In the last three years, New Orleans-inspired restaurants the Creole, Nola Bistro, and Jumbeaux have all opened, boosting Lansing-area access to this distinctive American cooking style. But while these other restaurants put the focus on traditional Cajun dishes such as gumbo and jambalaya, Sam’s takes a more general approach to Southern cooking.
“There’s a misconception that (Southern cooking) is all fried, but you can order it grilled here if you’re trying to eat healthier,” Kalel said. “All of the vegetables and sauces are prepared fresh daily. We really take our commitment to authenticity very seriously. If I had to compare Sam’s to something (Lansing diners) are more familiar with, I’d say we’re close to Red Lobster, but you get a lot more for your money with us.”
The menu features a bevy of surf and turf combo meals, with guests able to choose between jumbo shrimp, tilapia, catfish, oysters and crab cakes, as well as traditional offerings such as steak, chicken strips and wings. There are also those trademark Louisiana sandwiches, po’boys, along for the ride, as well as burgers, cheesesteaks and salads. And if you’re really keeping it real, you can also go with fried livers or gizzards.
“Everything is made fresh to order, and we don’t use anything that comes out of a box,” Kalel said. “I’d have to say our Southern-style tartar sauce and cocktail sauce is really what made us famous. It’s incredible. People go crazy for it.”
The location is still undergoing an interior overhaul, which includes a red, white and blue color scheme and an expansion to the kitchen to accommodate the oversized fryers and prep tables. Store owners Moe and Tracy Elbahga, who recently relocated from Mississippi in order to open it, are overseeing renovation work themselves. And even though Lansing’s south side isn’t exactly a mecca for adventurous dining, Kalel is convinced Sam’s will find its niche.
“We really like Lansing because of the high amount of commercial and residential traffic,” Kalel said. “We don’t do any advertising — we rely on word-of-mouth — but I’m anticipating it to do very well here. It has a good vibe, the people are very friendly and they seem to appreciate good food.”
After 29 years, East Lansing late night staple GoombaS Pizza closed for good last week. Owner/operator Gail Sutton cited her daughter’s battle with multiple sclerosis as the primary reason for calling it quits.
“She … remains in need of round the clock care, (so) for that reason I have chosen to close GoombaS,” Sutton said via text. “I want to thank (my customers) for their patronage and support over the years. It has been an honor and a privilege working with you.”
GoombaS was famous for its signature Pokee Stix appetizer and its creatively named specialty pizzas, including the Heart Attack (double pepperoni, double bacon, double cheese) and the Stonerpie, which was topped with, among other things, cheese sticks and French fries. Sutton was a partner in the original store, which opened in the Frandor Shopping Center in 1988 as Gumby’s Pizza. She took over operations in 1993 and moved it to its East Lansing location at 311 W. Grand River Ave. in 2000. She eventually opened two more stores in Kalamazoo and Madison, Wisc., but sold them after her husband died. A licensing snafu with the Gumby copyright holders necessitated the name change in 2012.
It is the latest downtown East Lansing eatery to close, following Sweet Lorraine’s Fabulous Mac n’ Cheez, Cosi and Velvet A Candy Store, which were all shuttered within the last year. CBRE/Martin senior associate Todd Kosta, who represents the property, said he’s currently seeking a new lessee for the space.
Mex-ing things up
On Monday, Red Burrito, an original “fresh-Mex grill” restaurant, held a soft opening in downtown Lansing. It takes over the former home of Lenny’s Sub Shop, which closed in that location last year. The menu features breakfast, lunch and dinner versions of traditional Mexican fare — including burritos, quesadillas and tacos — as well as a selection of specialty salads and desserts.
Sam’s Southern Eatery (opening in early June)
3812 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lansing
10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
212 S. Washington Square, Lansing
7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday