New in town
|By Allan I. Ross|
Maru Sushi & GrillMaru Sushi & Grill opened in its new East Lansing location this week. This is the third restaurant for owner/operator Robert Song’s 4-year-old enterprise, following Maru’s expansion in Grand Rapids last summer and the original restaurant in Okemos. At 2,800 square feet and with a seating capacity of 86, it’s also the largest.
“My philosophy is, if you’re not growing, you’re doing something wrong,” Song said. “Creating opportunities is what I do, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
Maru moved into a plaza suite on the corner of Coolidge and Lake Lansing Road. The spot was formerly occupied by Middle Eastern restaurant Ali Baba and upscale American eclectic All Seasons Bistro, but after Song’s complete renovation of the space, it would be unrecognizable to anyone who’d been into either of those places.
“We replaced absolutely everything, up to the bare ceiling and the cement floors,” Song said. “Thank goodness we had a good shell to work with.”
Song, 38, spent about six months fixing up the location, with work including a new sushi bar, a new kitchen and completely new interior.
“The old one just screamed ‘80s,” he said. “I Maru-fied the interior to match my food.”
And the food, Song says, will maintain the high standards of quality he’s set for his other locations.
“We still use California short grain rice, which is the best rice possible for making sushi,” he said. “It’s difficult to deal with if you don’t know how to treat it right, and it’s pricier, but I insist on having the best. I also still use the four or five best fish suppliers I can find, and as many local fruits and vegetables in our dishes as possible.”
Since Song opened the first Okemos location, the farm-to-table concept has taken off, with notable local representation coming from Red Haven, Fork in the Road and Wandering Waffles.
“Farm-to-table has reached the mainstream, and I try to incorporate that concept as much as possible,” he said. “If I can use blueberries from Holland or local asparagus, I’m going to do it — and I can’t wait for the Michigan asparagus to come in season.”
Song said he realizes that high quality food doesn’t come cheap, and so to avoid alienating customers, he’s committed to featuring sushi specials at two times every day. There’s a mid-day special every day from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and a happy hour — with specialty drink prices — coming with exact times to be announced.
“I remember what it was like being a student and everything over $10 becomes a push,” he said. “I want to make it possible for everyone to be able to eat here every day.”
Another aspect of Maru that’s unique among Song’s locations is the presence of draft beer, which includes two Michigan craft beers.
“Our Grand Rapids restaurant is located right next to Brewery Vivant, which is one of the beers we have on tap,” he said. “I remember eating at The Green Well, which is right across the street, and daydreaming about the day when I could have three restaurants. And now that I do, it’s just so surreal.”
Maru Sushi & Grill