Jan. 14 2009 12:00 AM

Downtown cafe worth the search


Pearl’s Café and Coffee Shop is the epitome of a hole-in-the-wall, tucked away on the first floor of the Boji Tower in downtown Lansing. Blink and you’ll miss it — that is, if it ever actually enters your field of vision.

Most folks who happen by Pearl’s have business inside the tower’s Senate Hearing Room or with a lawyer on the 21st floor. But those lucky explorers who do find Wendy Burns’ mini-eatery, just past the elevators, well, they’re in for a treat.

Talk to many restaurateurs and chances are you’ll hear how a sluggish economy is taking a toll on business. But in Burns’ case, the tanking economy actually helped push her into the business last June. She worked for the previous owner, and when opportunity rang, she stepped up to the counter.

"I decided I might as well buy this rather than keep interviewing and getting rejected for something, so that was kind of the motivation at first," Burns says.

She made over the cubby-deli, monikered the spot with her middle name “Pearl” to make it feel like home and never looked back.

Coffee, cappuccino, lattes and tea — much of it organic — are mainstays for a steady stream of professionals. Homemade muffins and cookies fly off the shelves, Burns says, but the menu isn’t just caffeine and sweets, although the chocolate-chunk cookie, a hand-sized morsel that remains soft in the middle all day, is certainly worth the trip inside Lansing’s tallest building.

At this time of year, with weight-loss resolutions still fresh, many patrons have healthy impulses, and Pearl’s meets the lean nosher’s needs. Tuna and turkey wraps compete with freshly made deli sandwiches, from turkey, ham and roast beef to egg, chicken and tuna salad. A turkey sandwich ($4.95), with lettuce, tomato and nine-grain bread from local bakery Great Harvest, hits the spot. Add $1 for chips or a cup of the soup-of-theday, which was chicken noodle or chili on a frosty afternoon last week.

The sesame chicken salad ($6.50) makes the taste buds jump. A tangy-sweet homemade sesame dressing is the perfect topper to a generous green salad with sesame sticks, chunks of celery, green onions and sliced almonds.

Homemade quiche ($5), breakfast sandwiches ($3.50) and assorted giant muffins ($2) are popular in the morning, along with lighter fare, such as the fresh fruit cup or yogurt parfait (both $2.50).

This time of year, with icy winds and sloppy mush on the streets outside, business actually picks up for Burns’ little shop, which is why she’s looking to add another set of hands in the afternoons, defiantly thumbing her nose at a jobstrangling recession. Most buy their eats and go, but a couple tables invite weary executives to take a load off while Burns and her small crew — usually one other helper at any given time — keep them entertained with jolly repartee.

Burns also caters for tenets and visitors of the building (and for denizens of a few other Boji-owned buildings as well) and gets a kick out of being able to meet and greet so many people. "I’m able to use personality and people skill, and definitely customer service is 100 percent the focus here," she says. "So far it’s working."

Pearl’s Café and Coffee Shop, 124 W.Allegan St., first floor of Boji Tower. 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Friday, closed Saturday & Sunday. (517) 853-5884.