Oct. 18 2018 11:00 AM

‘The go-to gathering place’


Theio’s restaurant closed its doors earlier this year but a bulldozer ensured the former diner — and widely renowned late-night gathering place — won’t return to Michigan Avenue. And its patrons mourned the loss.

“It was a staple in this neighborhood,” said Ron Mather, sipping a pint of beer at Moriarty’s Pub. “We’d go there late-night after the pub or go grab breakfast early the next morning. It was really the last, late-night place we had on this side of town. That was the place to go. It really was the go-to gathering spot after a few drinks.”

The iconic building was once home to one of the only 24-hour eateries in Lansing before it was shuttered earlier this year for a “deep cleaning,” according to its last tenant, Virginia Pulido.

Demolition crews gathered at the site last week, reducing the building to rubble and dirt — much to the displeasure of long-time customers and staff.

Tommy McCord, a sound technician at Mac’s Bar, said touring bands in recent months were shocked to see the diner had closed. It was a hub not only for musicians but for the hoards of fans that would often follow them next door for some late-night grub after the show. McCord said it was the only place that catered to that market.

“I’ve noticed in the last six months that bands have really lamented that place,” McCord added. “They always ask me where to go and I don’t know what to tell them anymore. I did always like how after a show, you could go over there and see everyone who had been there. That was always a nice image to see the bands over there.”

Pulido, who rented the space from owner Kim Cha Uebel, reduced the hours from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. when she took over management last year, effectively ending a 41-year tradition of late-night comfort food. Nick Mangopoulos and his family owned and ran the business for 24 years before selling to Uebel.

Lansing Township building inspector Daniel Richards, who also hailed the restaurant as “the place to go” back in the ‘80s, said ongoing electrical problems forced him to condemn the property in March. But nobody at the township mandated Uebel to demolish the property; that was approved at her own request, records indicated.

A demolition permit filed with the township on Aug. 28 suggested that Uebel sought to disconnect utilities and demolish the building to make room for a “grass area,” according to the records obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request. Uebel couldn’t be reached to provide additional clarity for the future of the site.

Plan for the site remain largely unclear.

But its loss won’t be left unnoticed.

Hannah Figliomeni, who worked at Theio’s as a server back in 2009, said she often didn’t need to write orders on tickets. Because the customers were such frequent fliers, the cooks knew exactly what to make by their name. Michigan State University students also turned the diner students made it a haven for late-night studying binges, she said.

“A lot of these regular customers were older people who were retired and coming to the restaurant was just part of their routine,” Figliomeni said. “Couples would come in for so long, we’d begin to see people outlive their spouses. Then they would come in alone. When they did, the servers always found time to sit right down in the booth and visit with them. You could tell it meant a lot, and so they came in every day.”

Joe Ray, a bartender at Stober’s Bar, remembered a drunken friend accidentally lighting himself on fire with a cigarette butt while they sat in a booth. He said he and a doorman at Moriarty’s also once broke up a fight inside and were eventually able to keep the rowdy patrons’ food when Theio’s staff kicked them out of the diner.

“It was the most lucrative fucking restaurant in town because they completely covered the market,” Ray added.

“It was the spot to run into people. It didn’t matter what group you went out with or what bar you went to, because at the end of the night, everyone would end up over at Theio’s anyway. They were really the only place to go for decades. Of course it’ll be missed.”

Ingham County property records still list Uebel as the owner of the barren patch of land that until last week housed decades of late-night memories behind its shuttered diner doors. The iconic red and yellow sign no longer glows through the early morning but serves as the last remaining memento of Theio’s legacy in Lansing.