Image taken by Carlito Sandini


This week, the local dining scene was shaken by the surprise closing of the Dolson in Charlotte. It had been a joint effort between the Lansing-based restaurant group Potent Potables Project and the Charlotte-based Dutch Brothers Development Group, and it had seemed like a guaranteed hit when it opened last June.


Dutch Brothers sunk about $1.3 million into buying and renovating the historic building at 112 S. Cochran St., former home of the Gavel restaurant, and Potent Potables worked to create a creative/eclectic menu that was designed to draw diners from around the tri-county area. But co-owner Jason Vanderstelt said those diners just didn’t come.


“Ultimately our concept of made-from-scratch, chef-driven cuisine wasn’t supported at a level that would lead us to believe it would be wise to continue,” said Vanderstelt on Sunday, the day after the Dolson closed for good. “It wasn’t sustainable for the business, let alone at the level that we had hoped it would.”


Vanderstelt said that in 2016 when he initially decided to open a restaurant, his first choice for a group to partner with was Potent Potables, made up of Al Hooper, Aaron Matthews and Sam Short.


The trio that had breathed new life into Old Town’s dining scene with the hipster bar Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern, the wood-fired pizza joint Cosmos, and the upscale New Orleans bistro Creole (recently rebranded as a more casual burger bar). Vanderstelt hoped to bring some of that magic to his neck of the woods, and successfully wooed the partners, despite their reservations about working so far from their comfort zone.


“To be honest, we really weren’t looking to open a restaurant in this area,” Short said last summer, shortly before the Dolson’s opening. “But we’re always looking to push the boundaries of what dining can look and feel like, and this community was very receptive to our ideas.”


Short deferred all questions about the Dolson’s closing to Vanderstelt, who said the decision was made last week as a group. Vanderstelt said he and his brother, Darrell, who own the building, are currently “pursuing other opportunities for the space.”


“It’s a fantastic space, and it certainly will be a topic of conversation regarding the redevelopment of our community,” he said. “Good things continue in Charlotte, people are organized and small businesses are entering the downtown. I know many are disappointed with the closing of the Dolson, but there will be others interested in serving the community in that space, I’m sure.”


Vanderstelt is also one of the driving forces behind the CharlotteRising movement, which is trying to rebrand the Lansing exurb as destination for retail, real estate and development. The Dolson’s failure certainly puts a kink in that plan, but he appeared optimistic that the movement would continue.


“CharlotteRising will continue to focus on what’s best for Charlotte,” Vanderstelt said. “Growth often isn’t a straight line. There will be wins and losses in getting where we ultimately end up. As an entrepreneur I am well aware of the ups and downs, and I am committed to testing new opportunities for our community.”


An ominous start to 2018:


The Dolson is the latest in already dire month for Lansing-area businesses. These other closings, all announced this month, are part of corporate consolidation efforts, victims of online retail competition or a combination of the two:


· BD’s Mongolian BBQ (Okemos)
· Schuler Books & Music (Eastwood Town Center)
· Sam’s Club (south Lansing)
· Babies R Us (west Lansing)
· Bagger Dave’s Burger Tavern (East Lansing)
· Toys R Us (Okemos)

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