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Zane Vicknair (center) stands with Street Kitchen employees, Fez Noyola (left) and Lissa Blon-Jacot. Vicknair is the chef at Street Kitchen, a new food truck in Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood. Vicknair previously co-owned Golden Harvest in Old Town.
The term “tactical urbanism” refers to an underground movement led by innercity individualists, largely consisting of implementing cheap, fast neighborhood improvement projects that fight urban blight. Lansing-based developer Jeff Deehan has been cultivating a tactical urbanism strategy around the capital city for over a decade, keeping under the radar for the most part. But this week he goes mainstream with his most high-profile endeavor to date: the Street Kitchen food truck.
“We’re calling it ‘snack’tical urbanism,” Deehan said. “Obviously food trucks aren’t a new idea, but using them in Lansing to create a sense of place is. This spot feels disengaged and gross now, but as soon as we get it up and running, it’s going to feel like part of the community.”
Street Kitchen will set up permanent shop on the east side of 2722 E. Michigan Ave., a building that Deehan and his project manager, Matt McNeil, are slowly, organically transforming into a mixed-use redevelopment project. Deehan’s company, Dymaxion Development, bought the building in early 2016 to be part of the east side’s ongoing revitalization effort. Even though it’s only a few blocks away from all the bustle going on down the street — developer Scott Gillespie’s two East Town projects, the Venue and Provident Place, and Kris Elliot’s upcoming brewery/ restaurant, Arcadia Ales & Smokehouse — its location across from an entrance ramp to US127 does make it feel a little far from the action.
“We’re taking a measured approach, and seeing what works before we spend $10 million building something new,” Deehan said. “People will start interacting here, starting with interesting business, and we’re seeding that. We’re seeking out people who want to make creative and impactful statements.”
The businesses inside the building are Health & Harmony Massage & Wellness Center, Revival Skate Shop, an escape room game center called Breakout and Studio 707 Productions, a hip-hop recording studio. The building is also home of the Lansing Somali Bantu Organization, a community center helping unite the local Somali community and connecting refugees with resources. Deehan said he thinks Street Kitchen will elevate the profile for all those entities, and he’s tapped Zane Vicknair, one of the city’s most high-profile chefs, to lead the charge.
“Zane is one of the pillars of our community,” Deehan said. “He’s a great chef, but he’s also just a genuine, caring, committed person. He and I are friends, so when I was developing the idea, I immediately thought of him.”
For 13 years, Vicknair was a co-owner of Old Town destination diner Golden Harvest but left in February following a separation with his wife, co-owner Vanessa Vicknair, who still owns and operates it. Vicknair developed the menu at Street Kitchen, which he says will “aggressively change” week-to-week.
“It’s going to be comfort food, reflecting the best of what’s seasonably available,” Vicknair said. “For me, it all starts with going to a market and seeing a peach or some okra and thinking about what I can do with it. It’s extremely challenging.”
But on the flip side, Vicknair said it’s “liberating” because he doesn’t have a menu that he “has to stick to.”
Despite its wheels, Street Kitchen will be permanently stationed alongside the building. Vicknair oversaw the construction of the tables and chairs surrounding the truck, which will also remain in place yearround. The kitchen will keep lunch and dinner hours Monday through Friday.
“It’s great what Jeff is doing here,” Vicknair said. “We are taking literally nothing and turning into something that we hope empowers people to see the changes they can make in their community.”
Street Kitchen 2722 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; closed Saturday-Sunday