June 22 2016 11:59 AM

Landmark Clara’s Lansing Station closing after 37 years

Cindy Jubeck, co-owner of Clara's Lansing Station, sits in a booth in the restaurant's dining room. After 37 years in Lansing, Clara's closes its doors Sunday.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

With its cone-shaped towers, carved stone arches and vintage attached railcar, Clara’s Lansing Station is more than just the most visually striking restaurant in town — since 1979, it’s been the unofficial welcome center to downtown Lansing. And this Sunday, after 37 years of business, the Lansing landmark will close under its current family ownership.

“It wasn’t a decision we arrived at overnight, but we knew we wanted to go out on our own terms and in our own way,” said Cindy Jubeck, who co-owns and runs the restaurant with her brother, Scott Jubeck. “We really struggled for a while with the when and the why, so we made a plan and then just picked a date. And June 26 will be the last day.”

There wasn’t an official announcement. Word got out last weekend through social media after employees started telling customers the news. Jubeck said that wasn’t part of the plan, but doesn’t seem to be upset the way it played out.

“We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but we definitely wanted to let our customers know before they headed out of town for the summer,” Jubeck said. “This is Lansing history, but this is our customers’ history too. This is something my dad was proud of. He wanted to build something everyone could appreciate and enjoy.”

Clara’s was founded by the Jubecks’ father, Pennsylvania native Peter Jubeck. He opened the first Sir Pizza in Lansing in 1968, but 10 years later was looking for a new project. So in 1978, Jubeck partnered up with his friend, Bob Swartz, and decided to open an upscale casual restaurant. Jubeck purchased the Union Depot Building. Built in 1902 as a passenger station in downtown Lansing, it had been shuttered since 1972. Jubeck and Swartz spent a year transforming the building into a 300- seat restaurant before realizing they didn’t know what they were going to call it.

“So they put a bunch of Victorian-sounding women’s names into a hat, including the names of their grandmothers,” Cindy Jubeck said. “My dad’s grandmother was Anna Mae, and Bob’s grandmother was Clara. And that was the name they drew.”

Jubeck later partnered with one of his general managers, Ross Simpson, to open a sister restaurant, Clara’s on the River, in another former train depot in Battle Creek. Simpson developed the 15-page menu for both restaurants. After Jubeck died in 2003, Simpson bought Clara’s on the River, and Jubeck’s children, who had long since been involved in the business, took ownership of their dad’s flagship bistro.

“It’s always been a family affair,” said Cindy Jubeck. “I had my 12th birthday party on the balcony here. But after dad died, we knew that traveling back and forth would be too much for us. Ross is doing very well down there, and anyone who starts missing our food should go check it out. They even have the same Sunday brunch as us.”

Jubeck, 49, had struggled with health problems for years, but last year she suffered a broken back in car accident. She said the recovery was longer than she expected, leaving her brother, 52, to manage the restaurant without her.

“The restaurant industry is a young person’s field,” Jubeck said. “It’s very physically demanding, and in the last year we slowly came to the realization that we’re not going to be able to do this forever.”

It’s been a bittersweet year for longtime Lansing restaurateurs. Last October, Paul Grescowle closed Emil’s Restaurant, which his grandfather opened in 1921. Earlier in 2015, Charlie Sinadinos passed the reins of her 45-year-old bistro, the Knight Cap, over to new owners. Jubeck said there have been “several” interested parties looking to buy Clara’s, but no decisions will be made for at least a month.

“More than anything, we want someone who will keep the integrity of the business intact,” she said. “You can only imagine the cost involved to upkeep the building, so we’re definitely looking for someone who understands" historical preservation. "We want to pass baton on to someone else who can bring it into the new century, but keep its spirit intact.”

The father-and-son team of Leo and Gregory Farhat, who took over the Knight Cap, gave the interior a new look but retained much of the menu and the name. The Potent Potables Project, made up of restaurateurs Alan Hooper, Aaron Matthews and Sam Short, breathed new life into Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern and transformed the former Creole Gallery into a Louisiana-themed bistro, the Creole. So although the Jubeck name will no longer be associated with Clara’s, it’s not entirely out of the question that the name could live on under the progressive leadership of a new generation.

“Right now, though, we’re just trying to get though this week,” Jubeck said. “This is very emotional for us. In a way, this is sort of like another death for my father. Everywhere I look here, I see him here. But I’m extremely proud of the legacy he created, and I know he’d be proud of how this part of the story is ending.”

Clara’s Lansing Station

637 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
(517) 372-7120, claras.com