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Wednesday, July 31,2013

Cooking lessons

Lansing’s first restaurant week 'definitely a success'

by ALLAN I. ROSS
Last week, Lansing joined the great restaurant meccas of New York, San Francisco and Miami in dedicating a week to highlighting its local dining establishments. The first-ever Capital Area Restaurant Week featured 28 local restaurants that rolled out up to three multi-course meals for $25 or two for $25. And early results point to an all-around victory. 

“Summer is a traditionally slow time of year for Lansing-area restaurants,” said event co-organizer Chambre Beauvais. “That’s why we decided to hold this event in late July and during the week. We wanted to make sure we were helping restaurants without hurting regular business.” 

Ten percent of proceeds went the Greater Lansing Food Bank, a local nonprofit that provides emergency food to families in need. Kim Gladstone is the Food Bank´s development manager; she said it will take about two or three weeks before she receives a check, but was thankful that her organization was chosen.  

“We’re very, very grateful to everyone who participated in restaurant week, in one form or another,” she said. “It was a real honor. It was nice to see the community come together like this. And hopefully all the restaurants saw a nice bump in business because of it.”  

Beauvais said final numbers aren’t in yet, but the event likely spiked local restaurant attendance by 10 percent over the four-day stretch. 

“Most restaurants saw between 20 and 40 people a day because of it,” Beauvais said. “Any way you look it at it, it was definitely a success.” 

Jim Farhat, owner of Piazzano’s, 1825 N. Grand River Ave. in Lansing, said he’s happy he participated. 

“I talked to many people who seemed impressed with the concept,” Farhat said. “We did about 45 special menus and got some new customers out of it. Plus we got to help the Food Bank out. Everyone wins here, if you ask me.” 

One restaurant used the event to introduce itself to mid-Michigan diners. Last week was the first full week of business for a new scratch Italian restaurant Tannin, 5100 Marsh Road in Okemos. Tannin co-owner Chris Roelofs said he was “overwhelmed” by the turnout.

“We had no idea what to expect, and the response was better than we expected,” he said. “I’d say about 70 to 80 percent of our diners last week opted for the special menu. Restaurant week worked out fantastically for us.” 

Windy Johnson, manager of downtown Lansing’s Knight Cap, 320 E. Michigan Ave., said the event wasn’t just good for her restaurant, but the area overall. 

 “It brought business downtown that we don’t usually see this time of year,” she said. “And about three out of four people ordered off the special menu. We’re perceived as a high-end place, but we were able to show our menu to new customers, who realized that we’re actually very reasonable. Next year we want to do it for two weeks.”

General manager Bill Shreck of Dusty’s Cellar, 1839 W. Grand River Ave, Okemos, also noted the event’s positive impact.

“I’d say we saw about 30 new faces a day, and about 80 percent of people coming in ordered off the special menu,” he said. “We actually wanted to give a little more, so we had a four-course menu for $25. We received nothing but positive responses, and it was satisfying to know it was helping a worthwhile cause. For sure, Dusty’s will be part of Restaurant Week 2014.” 

Nick Gavriledes, owner of the Soup Spoon Café, 1419 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing, said restaurant week was key in helping him reach a new set of customers.

“We saw lots of people and sold a ton of entrees,” he said. “We’re definitely interested in doing it again next year.” 

Gavriledes said he sold 137 restaurant week entrees, about half of which he chalked up to first-time diners. 

“That’s a solid number, and actually better than we had anticipated,” he said. “And that’s about $350 to a charitable donation. So it seems like it worked out great for everyone.” He said he also made a valuable discovery about one of his employees. 

“I learned that my chef (Jason Blastic) is pretty good with media,” Gavriledes joked. “He usually has this shyness about him, but he really opened up. It’s great, because now I have another face to put out there.
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