July 10 2013 12:00 AM

New Okemos Italian restaurant boldly keeps decor simple


The scratch Italian restaurant Tannin is scheduled to open this month in Okemos. Partners Chris Roelofs (general manager) and James Sumpter (executive chef) have honed their chops at several restaurants around town, but this will be the first time either has taken a crack at ownership. 

“We’re doing something unusual by having main interests in both the front and the back of the house,” said Roelofs. “Usually you have either a service-oriented establishment or a food-oriented one. We’re able to keep the focus on both.” 

Sumpter shies away from the phrase “farm-to-table” (“I think it’s overused.”), but said that all of the ingredients will be purchased locally. Specifically, the beef, pork, lamb, chicken, duck and rabbit will be brought in whole and processed on-site after it’s been butchered. Sumpter said this will result in the freshest food and will minimize waste. 

“I like to imagine how a classic Italian chef would run his kitchen if he were to come to Okemos,” Sumpter explained. “He’s not going to do things exactly the way he did in Italy, he’s not going to import all those ingredients. He’s going to work with the best of what he has nearby.” 

The partners also went for a new look at Tannin, combining the new and the old, the warm and the cold to create the restaurant’s interior. 

Hours will be posted soon at tanninofokemos.com, or call (517) 575-6840.

“Italian is an all-seasons cuisine,” said  Sumpter (pictured). “It’s also a great comfort food, perfect for those interminable gray Michigan winters. We saw that there was no upscale independent Italian nearby, and thought this was something the area could use.” 

Reolofs and Sumpter worked with a designer to custom design this wine glass rack behind the bar. “It fits the space perfectly,” Roelofs said. Tannin, incidentally, is a compound in some wine that gives it a dry taste. “Plus we just liked the way it sounds.” 

All of the wood used in the table tops and the accents around the restaurant was made from reclaimed cedar beams, wood pallets ... and fence posts. “That was actually from Chris’ yard,” said Sumpter. “The whole idea of using recycled materials fits with our theme of doing it all ourselves and our general system of values of using local products. It has the beauty, a roughness, that finished wood doesn’t have.”

Tannin, 5100 Marsh Road in Okemos, takes over the spot formerly occupied by Coffee and Friends Café, which closed last year. It abounds in natural light, but needed some tweaking to transform from coffee house to bistro.  “We did a lot of interior renovation, including remodeling the bathrooms and moving a wall to cut down on dead space,” Roelofs said. 

“Originally we were going to go for a contemporary theme, but we liked the way the warmth of the wood started playing off the cold of the sheet metal,” said Sumpter.” The bar itself is recycled quartz while the foot rail is galvanized steel pipe.  “We’re calling the theme, ‘industrial rustic.’”