July 6 2016 11:48 AM

Gracie's Place

Downtown Williamston bistro Gracie's Place wa sold last week to Nick Gavrilides, owner/operator of eastside Lansing's Soup Spoon Cafe.
Ty Forquer/City Pulse

One of eastside Lansing’s most successful restaurateurs is looking to expand farther east by scooping up one of Williamston’s best known eateries.

Last week, Dawn-Marie Joseph sold Gracie’s Place, the upscale eclectic bistro she opened in downtown Williamston in 2008, to Nick Gavrilides, owner/operator of Soup Spoon Café, an upscale eclectic bistro on Lansing's eastside. The final sale came after six months of liquor license bureaucracy and transitional strategizing.

“This is the best thing that could happen to Gracie’s,” Joseph said. “And this really has been a very friendly move. My husband and I will still eat here — just maybe not quite as often.”

The restaurant was never officially up for sale, but in January, Joseph and her husband, Gracie’s co-owner Paul T. Joseph, learned through a mutual friend that Gavrilides would “probably be interested” if they ever decided to turn the reins over to someone else.

“We just felt that we didn’t have time to give Gracie’s the full-time focus it needed,” Joseph said. “And as soon as (my friend) mentioned Nick, I knew it was perfect. Nick’s so good at what he does, and he understands the restaurant business so well.”

Despite their similarities, Joseph and Gavrilides didn’t meet until the sales process had begun. But they’d been been building a bond over the years, unbeknownst to each other.

“Paul and I have gone to Soup Spoon many times over the years and always enjoyed our meals,” Joseph said. “And we found out later that Nick loved to come into Gracie’s to have a beer at the bar.”

Gavrilides opened Soup Spoon Café in 2006 as a breakfast-and-lunch-only diner with aspirations for expansion. He has spent the last decade growing both his menu and the restaurant’s size, eventually adding a liquor license and full dinner offerings. Like Gracie’s Place, the cafe developed into a dining destination with a reputation for handcrafted cocktails, expansive wine and craft beer selections and creative, eclectic fare.

“I have tremendous respect for Dawn- Marie and everything she’s done with Gracie’s Place,” Gavrilides said. “This place has so much charm — that’s really what makes it so special. I’m extremely honored that she trusts me with her business. This was her baby.”

But it wasn’t an only child. Between the two of them, the Josephs own or co-own seven other Williamston businesses: Vivee’s Floral Garden and Café, Tom Donnelly’s Williamston Barbell Club, the Wedding Gallery bridal wear boutique, Estate Planning & Preservation, Joseph & Joseph Tax and Payroll, Paul T. Joseph Law Office and Blue Button Bakery, which opened last August.

“We did this because we wanted to start spending more time with our five grandkids,” Joseph said. “We’re not getting any younger. We have four dogs and a pool at home that we’d like to enjoy more. Michigan summers aren’t that long.”

One of those grandkids is Grace, the restaurant’s namesake. Joseph said of all the aspects about the sale she was worried about, telling her granddaughter was one of the toughest.

“She’s going to be 14 in August and is starting to get a lot of opinions about things, so I was nervous about how she was going to react,” Joseph

said. “We’d been keeping it secret for months from everyone, but she was the big deal for me. When I did finally tell her, initially she was shocked. She just kept saying, ‘You’re doing what?’ But eventually she came around.”

The ownership change should be all but invisible to the casual observer. Gavrilides plans to keep some of the signature dishes, as well as the Gracie’s Place name — no plans for a Gracie’s Spoon or Soup Spoon East. He intends to start building up the front- and back-of-the-house staff soon and begin transitioning over to a new menu, which will be in place within two weeks. He’s already installed his sister, Ann Gavrilides, and Joshua Lane, former sous chef of Dusty’s Cellar, as the kitchen management team.

“It’s not quite where I want it to be yet, but hopefully soon,” Gavrilides said. “I’m not making too big a deal about (the changeover) right now because I don’t want too many people coming in before we’re ready. Everything will in place by the end of summer, though.”

Joseph spent the last decade honing the décor of Gracie’s Place, including the addition of a marble bar and stained glass windows. All that stays, but she did confess to swiping one thing before she left: a single piece of art.

“Grace made it when she was 6, and I’d had it on the wall with a price tag of a million dollars,” Joseph said. “Surprisingly, no one bought it. But now I can say I have a million-dollar piece of art hanging in my bathroom at home.”

Gracie’s Place 151 S. Putnam St., Williamston 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday (517) 655-1100, graciesplacewilliamston.com