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Wednesday, June 16,2010

Way to grow

Bad economy? Bah, humbug: A pair of local eateries have recently expanded

by ALLAN I. ROSS

You’ve undoubtedly heard the dire claim that 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within five years (actual statistics are about twothirds make it to the two-year mark and almost half survive to their four-year anniversary). Given Michigan’s economy, you would think those numbers would be on the conservative side.


But two downtown Lansing restaurants are defying all conventional wisdom and not only surviving, but flourishing.


“At lunch, we were so busy we were turning people away every day,” says Mirko Jurkovic, owner/operator of Restaurant Mediteran (333 S. Washington Square) “Every time I have to tell someone no or they have to wait, I think, ‘Maybe they’ll go somewhere else and won’t come back.’ We needed more room.”


Mediteran, a fusion restaurant of Eastern and Western European cuisine, opened quietly in 2004, pulling in a boffo lunch business, but drawing a relatively soft dinner crowd. The mid-’00s downtown bar/restaurant boom that welcomed half a dozen new restaurants in as many years kept Mediteran afloat and helped them build up an evening base as well — a rising tide lifts all boats, indeed. Jurkovic had been looking to expand both his menu and his floor plan for at least three years, and when the business next door vacated last year, he made his move.


“We couldn’t make a bigger kitchen, but we could make more seating for the restaurant (in the new space),” he says. “We also added a rotisserie, so we can offer new items no one else downtown has.”


The new space is split in half, with the back part being a dining room extension for Mediteran and the front part forming a separate deli-type eatery. The expanded dining room allows Jurkovic to accommodate groups of up to 25 — he used to have to draw the line at eight, due to space constraints.


The bright, casual deli, meanwhile, is separated from the more intimate, upscale ambience behind it by a door, and offers fresh rotisserie chicken, pork and lamb. It’s set up as a New York-style take-out, but there are about 10 seats if you want to sit by the window and watch the world go by.


Jurkovic’s son Igor, who helps run the restaurant, estimates that building owner Scott Gillepsie spent between $30,000 and $40,000 in infrastructure costs to update the 1,200-square-foot space, and the Jurkovics spent another $30,000 on new equipment, furniture and signage.


“We also hired four people (for the deli) and one person for the restaurant, and now both sides are full every day,” says Mirko Jurkovic, smiling. “It’s much better now.”


A mile and a half east of Mediteran, the Soup Spoon Café (1419 E. Michigan Ave.) also recently expanded to roughly double its size. The 5-year-old breakfast-andlunch bistro added dinner to the menu a couple years ago, and last month owner/ chef Nick Gavriledes knocked down his former neighbor’s wall and installed a 900-square-foot coffee/espresso bar.


“The line at lunch used to wrap around to the flower shop next door,” says Gavriledes. “We just wanted to help get our customers out quicker. Demand led directly to this expansion.”


The extra space has allowed Gavriledes to put in about 30 new seats, and almost double his staff from seven to 12.


He says about $30,000 worth of construction went into the addition, not including $6,000 in new furnishings. The oak bar was donated by a customer, and the pull shot espresso maker mounted behind it looks like something out of an Old West saloon. Keeping with the new vibe, Gavriledes says he’s exploring the possibility of pursuing a liquor license.


“This isn’t going to become a bar, but in order to expand dinner offerings, you really need wine and handcrafted beer to complement it,” he says. “It’s part of the growth.”

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