Once more, with feeling
|By ALLAN I. ROSS|
Popular spot reopens with new name, owner and attitudeA restaurant named “Grumpy’s” could imply one of three things: it’s one of those shticky tourist traps where the servers hurl straws and insults at the guests; it’s a novelty eatery in Disneyland; or it’s got one of those ironic names, like when you call a huge guy Tiny. Fortunately, we’re dealing with Option No. 3 this week.
“You can usually hear my big voice laughing and carrying on no matter where you’re sitting,” says Grumpy’s Diner owner/operator Bill Walker. “Temperamental cooks went out with the horse and buggy. We try and make things fun around here.”
Last month Walker took over what used to be the Korner Kitchen, on the corner of Pennsylvania and Mt. Hope avenues in Lansing, re-opening the recently closed restaurant after a massive internal renovation. “After I took over from the last guy, we closed it down and did a complete top-to-bottom overhaul,” Walker says. “These are the same four walls, but that’s about it. We pulled out everything, we cleaned everything, and we started over completely from scratch inside. This is a completely new restaurant with a completely new mindset.”
Walker’s resume reads like a who’s-who of extinct mid-Michigan diners and restaurants. He rattles of nearly a dozen restaurants where he’s held every title up to and including head chef: Pretzel Bell, the Poorhouse, Saratoga Inn. He also owns and operates a restaurant cleaning business and is bursting with pride about the clean ship he runs. Doubt him?
“We have an open-door policy, come with me,” he says, snatching this writer and taking him on a whirlwind tour of everything from the freezer to the food line. “Go on, get down and look under the grill — it’s immaculate! (Indeed, it is.) I’ve gone way out of the way to make sure this is the cleanest kitchen I’ve ever worked in.”
Walker cares about his customers. He frequently comes out to the dining room to get input from diners. After diabetic patrons expressed a concern about a lack of sugar-free desserts in the area, Walker created an entire diabetic-friendly dessert menu, which is coming soon. “This is a true, old-fashioned restaurant,” Walker says. “It’s the last of a dying breed. Everything we do here is from scratch. Want to see how we make the fries?” He takes a gigantic Idaho potato, puts it on a slicer and jams it though. Colossal fries the size of candy bars shoot out the other end. “That’s it!”
Those fries come with the Grumpy Burger ($7.99), which is made of two quarter-pound patties with melted American cheese, bacon, onions and hearty barbecue sauce. Almost everything on the menu bears the owner’s pseudonym (there’s a Grumpy Breakfast, a Grumpy Dinner, a Grumpy Burger …), but it’s The Hot Meatloaf Sandwich ($6.99) that’s most emblematic of the diner’s charm. At least a half-pound of meatloaf all but squashes the bread of this open-faced sandwich, which is ladled with thick brown gravy and served with homemade redskin mashed potatoes. “My goal is simple — make ‘em full,” Walker says.
Future enhancements to Grumpy’s include expanding into the vacant adjacent space that housed the short-lived Banyan Tree Thai restaurant. He also envisions sister restaurants on each side of town. He briefly mulled over going with an Ed Debevic's -type theme for these spin-offs, where the waitstaff would jovially harass customers, but he just doesn’t think Lansing would go for it. “Our tagline is ‘Home of the Mean Cuisine,’ but my wife and daughter came up with that,” he says with a smile (both wife, Kay and daughter, Brandi, work as servers). “Whenever people ask me if I’m Grumpy, I just point at my wife and tell them, ‘Give her a couple hours.’”
Grumpy’s Diner, 1001 E. Mt. Hope Ave., Lansing. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. (517) 853-1035. www.grumpysdiner.com.