April 1 2015 12:00 AM

Downtown Lansing’s Knight Cap gets new owners, revamped interior


Last September, I broke the news that an interested party had signed a purchase agreement with Charlie Sinadinos to buy her fine dining establishment, the Knight Cap, downtown Lansing’s longest continuously operating restaurant. At the time, that party asked to not be named, but last week it became official: Leo A. Farhat Jr. and his son, Gregory Farhat, are the new owners of the Knight Cap.

“I have a (duty) to Charlie to maintain the great reputation she and George spent 45 years building,” Leo Farhat said. “I’ve loved the Knight Cap for a very long time. I want to continue a proud tradition.”

In 1969, Sinadinos’ husband, George Sinadinos, opened the Knight Cap at 320 E. Michigan Ave. She took over in 1988 after he died, ran it for 27 years and closed for good on March 21 amid an outpouring of well wishes. Four days later, Farhat signed the paperwork, got the keys and immediately started work on cosmetic upgrades to the 1,000-square-foot interior. And next month, Farhat will re-launch the downtown steak and-seafood staple with some of the same staff and a similar menu.

“We want to keep the upscale atmosphere but give it a fresh new look,” said Gregory Farhat, who’s spearheading the changeover while still working his day job as director of workplace strategies and delivery at Jackson National Life Insurance Co.

You’ll grab the same sword hilt to open the front door and the same mustachioed knight will greet you atop the same bar inside, but the changes will be obvious. For starters, the Farhats are working with Pace Howe Design to transition to a more subdued blue-and-gray color scheme. There is also a rebranding operation headed by Traction that has resulted in a new logo and a slightly shorter name — henceforth, the “the” will be dropped and it will simply be called Knight Cap.

Leo Farhat is also tweaking the menu with Chef Carl Davis, who will stay on in the kitchen. Otherwise, it will be same 45-seat Knight Cap that he fell in love with more than 40 years ago.

“It was either homecoming or prom, and I was sitting right there,” Farhat says, closing one eye and pointing to a phantom table in the corner. “I told (my date) that I wanted to own this place someday.”

That bit of teenage fancy launched Farhat’s food service career. Shortly after graduating from college in the early ‘70s, he went to work at the historic Topinka’s on the Boulevard in Detroit. In the late ‘70s, Farhat returned to mid-Michigan to manage Robert’s Restaurant, a fine dining eatery that was located where the Landshark Bar & Grill now sits. He moved to Florida, moved back, ventured into food distribution for a short time and even worked for a lobbying firm (hey, it’s Lansing). Then, in 2009, he returned to the restaurant world when he bought the Home Town Diner, 1040 S. Pennsylvania Ave., in Lansing. He turned it into the Brunch House, a diner that specializes in Middle Eastern fare. He will still run that by day before going to Knight Cap in the evening.

“There goes my fun nights out,” he chided.

Farhat has added new items to the menu, such as aged, certified Angus beef, centercut steaks and Scottish salmon. He said the appetizer menu will also be expanded, but will retain customer favorites like the mediciettes (breaded tenderloin tips), oysters and lobster bisque. He said the menu may continue to evolve, but he’s got time to worry about that.

“This was George and Charlie’s baby, and I want her to know it’s in good hands,” Farhat said. “I’m not going to be able to get the 45 years out of it they did, but hopefully I’ll get a few.”

New in Town

The Beer Grotto

The Beer Grotto, carved into the west end of downtown Lansing’s Stadium District, is sufficiently distant from the Grand River to avoid any danger of flooding, as a real seaside grotto would be. However, don’t be surprised to see a monster wave of beer and wine fans deluge the newest watering hole in town when it opens early this month. (An exact opening date couldn’t be confirmed at press time, but it could open as early as next week.)

“We had some construction delays, but we’re excited to finally be open,” said Jake VanAtta, Beer Grotto director of marketing. “With all the new restaurants and bars nearby, it is great to be a part of a great welcoming downtown area and bring a cool new dynamic.”

It wouldn’t be right to call the Beer Grotto a bar, since there will be no physical bar in sight.

Instead, the 4,200-squarefoot space will have five separate tasting pods, where bartenders and wine experts — ahem, “beer geeks and cork dorks” — will provide tastings of craft beer and boutique wine selections.

“It’s our unique way to serve,” VanAtta said. “We encourage interaction. You can open a conversation with one of the beer geeks at a pod, then go back to your table.”

The Beer Grotto will seat about 300, including 70 on the patio, which will open later this spring on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Cedar Street. VanAtta said customers can sample up to two 1-ounce tastings of the 48 craft beers on tap for free before committing to a 3-ounce pour or a pint.

“Craft beer can come across as intimidating,” VanAtta said. “We want you to learn and enjoy craft beer without feeling inferior.”

After the complimentary two, tastings will run between $1-$4, depending on the type of beer. VanAtta said 70 percent of the taps will be devoted to Michigan beers, and there will be a small selection of bottled beer as well. All draft beers will be available to-go by the growler as well. Additionally, there will be 24 fine and boutique wines, also featuring some Michigan-made. And then there’s the food.

“We’re focusing on things that are simple but flavorful and that will complement the beer and wine,” VanAtta said. Anchoring the menu will be a fleet of panini sandwiches, including an “upscale grill cheese” featuring artisan cheeses. Seasonal soups, spicy feta dip, specialty popcorn and a cheese board will also be available.

There’s no official grand opening planned (yet), but VanAtta teased a possible event later this month.

“We’re working with Short’s (Brewing Co.), who are making an exclusively labeled mango IPA for us,” VanAtta said. “They’ve never done that before. But then, there’s never been a place like this before.”