Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant reopened last week after a three-month hiatus. The owners took time off to visit family in Asia and then to renovate the location in south Lansing. Here, Moe Naing Israel attends to guests.
A Spartan flag still hangs over the service window and a peacock painting still festoons the far wall — other than that, the interior of Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant is largely unrecognizable. The south Lansing eatery reopened last week after being closed since early June to give the owner/operators, husbandand-wife team Moe Naing Israel and Mi Thanda, a chance to visit family back in Burma. Then after returning to Lansing last month, the duo oversaw nearly a month of renovation work that stymied their hungry fan base. “People were writing on our Facebook page every day, ‘When are you opening again?’ ‘Hurry up,’ ‘We can’t wait,’” Israel said at the end of his first week back. “It makes me happy to know people missed us, but it’s been hard to keep up.” Since the reopening, people have been happily (albeit hungrily) waiting up to two hours for their meals, which include popular favorites Pad Thai and Pad Kee Mao. Similar to how fans behave in the cult favorite Golden Harvest diner on the city’s north end, Naing's customers have no problem milling about near the entrance and kibitzing with others in line, even sharing tables with strangers to speed things along. “It’s a blessing from God,” Israel said. “When we opened, it was a hard first year. Now I’m seeing more new faces every week than ever before. It’s incredible.” Israel and Thanda planned their Asia trip, which included a trip to Singapore, for over a year following their American citizenship certification in December 2015. Israel said the trip was possible because business had been so good, and due in part to the fact that he was finally able to coordinate the interior overhaul.
Nearly half of the $20,000 renovation cost was paid with money collected two years ago by the restaurant’s ardent fan base. The crowdsourcing campaign was enacted after Naing’s water was shut off because the landlord hadn’t been paying the utilities.
Israel and Thanda were forced to close for eight days while a solution was sought; finally, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero himself stepped in and held a powwow onsite with representatives from the Board of Water & Light to expedite a service return. Shortly afterward, Israel and Thanda were back in business. “The mayor still comes in sometimes,” Israel said. “He likes our food now, too. He’s a really nice guy.” The renovation included new floors, new electric work and an expansion to the kitchen, which allowed Israel and Thanda to add nine new menu items. Those include samosas, appetizers (fried potato, curry and bean dumplings), Kon Bong Gyi Kyaw (a chicken dish made with dried chili, pineapple, tomato and green onion) and the awesomely named “Fried Cellphone Noodle,” a cellophane noodle dish made with ginger, Chinese cilantro, cabbage and your choice of meat. Israel had previously handled all frontof-house service with his wife and their loyal employee, Phyu Wai, working the kitchen. But the “new” Naing has inspired him to train at least one new server, who will debut later this fall, and at least one more prep cook in back. Israel said he hasn’t ruled out an increased footprint size, with the possibility of knocking down a wall and expanding into one of the adjacent spaces in his strip mall location. “But first, I want to make sure we can handle the people who are waiting,” he said. “Two hours is too long.”
Make a run for the Frandor Over the next eight weeks, a vacant storefront in the Frandor Shopping Center will be transformed into a new Taco Bell location. It’s an unconventional spot for a fast food restaurant to be sure, but operator Molly Trosco said that the spot has been on her radar for a while. “We have been looking for a location in Frandor for a few years,” Trosco said. “When this site became available, we took that opportunity.” Trosco said the look and feel will be similar to the location near the intersection of Jolly and Dunckel roads.
Despite its pedestrian-friendly setting, she anticipates a majority of business — around 70 percent — will still come from the drive-thru window, even with a dining room that will stay open until midnight. The storefront, 310 N. Clippert St. Suite 1, was most recently home to Halo Burger, a fast casual hamburger chain based in Flint that opened in October 2013 and closed earlier this year. Fast food restaurants have been increasingly challenged by the fast casual concept — a short walk away are fast casual chains Blaze Pizza, Panera Bread and Penn Station East Coast Subs — so this transition back into a fast food joint has a certain tint of irony to it. Trosco said there were some grander plans in the works for this Taco Bell that would have made it unique for local fast food, but they were scaled back. “We were going to serve beer, but could not get the license,” she said. “We will be adding fries to our menu in 2018.”
Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant 3308 S. Cedar St Suite #3, Lansing 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. & 5-8 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday; 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. & 5-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday- Monday (857) 615-8393