It started out as a simple idea to activate an unused office building in Lansing — park a food truck right beside it.
In 2017, Zane Vicknair left his popular Golden Harvest digs to open the Streetkitchen food truck with a handful of employees.
The group braved the inclement weather, sometimes dealing with freezing temperatures below the counter and sweltering temperatures from the stovetops and grills above.
Bit by bit, Vicknair progressed. He started moving a few picnic tables inside the building. Then came a cooler, a service counter and lights. Soon, Vicknair began marking with blue tape the layout of the new restaurant.
“Taking a blighted abandoned building sitting on a corner and bringing it up organically came out of necessity," Vicknair said. “When cold weather came, we had to find a way to shelter the people who were waiting for the food we were making. Putting picnic tables in really activated the space.”
Jeff Deehan, Dymaxion Development CEO and Streetkitchen’s principal investor, called it an exercise of “tactical urbanism,” where one small bustling development takes over a larger space.
“We organically allowed it to come alive and tell us what it wanted to be,” Deehan said. “The final product is significantly different than what our original idea was, but that was the intention from the beginning.”
Now, with expansion on the horizon, Vicknair’s team will leave the confines of the food truck to work indoors for the first time this March. He’ll have a brand-new, shiny kitchen with a hell of a lot more space than the 24 inches of clearance from counter to counter they were used to.
The new restaurant, like the food truck it will replace, will expand incrementally starting with adding a breakfast menu. Pending this success, The People’s Kitchen will add a liquor license and a dinner service. When the space is complete, Vicknair estimates the staff will have grown to around 40 employees.
“Right now, our menu is limited by the space, storage and equipment of a food truck,” Vicknair said. “We are no stranger to working in minute postage stamp mini restaurants, but to have a kitchen that’s bigger than the rest of the old restaurant is completely exciting to us.”
The new name comes from a personal place in the head chef ’s past living as a homeless youth in search of food, as well as a relic of Lansing’s history.
“When I was in California, there was a soup kitchen attached to a farm I went to that was called The People’s Kitchen. It was one of the first times I saw people care about what they were making to take care of other people,” Vicknair said.
Being a patron opened up Vicknair’s mind to the importance of quality food availability.
It followed him to Lansing as Streetkitchen hosts the nonprofit Punks with Lunch every Saturday during the brunch special. The group provides food and other necessities for people in need in the Lansing community.
Vicknair also said there used to be a place called The People’s Restaurant next to Clara’s on Michigan Avenue, which further cemented the name for him.
“I’ve never eaten there or been there, but it spoke to my heart as far as paying homage to the restaurants and communities that have been here before us.”
Most importantly, The People’s Kitchen menu options will be reflective of the people it serves, Vicknair said.
“We want to make sure that we have a little something for everyone — even if it is a $5 bowl of beans and rice to playing with molecular gastronomy.”
Vicknair said after the restaurant opens, the food truck will still be active in some capacity. Prospective plans include a vegan food truck.
“This is an opportunity for us to build it from the ground up and be involved in every aspect from design to execution,” Vicknair said. “You never get a chance to build a dream like this. Bring on any challenges because we’re ready.”
Streetkitchen 2722 E. Michigan Ave. Lansing, MI 48912 Tuesday - Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (517) 507-5730 www.eatpeoples.com