What’s open, closed to returning state workers

LANSING — These days, it’s hard for Abdullah Soubani to know when he’ll be busy at his downtown restaurant, Sultan’s Express. It depends on the weather, the state of COVID, if the state legislature is in session.

This week, that could change.

Two years ago, downtown restaurants have lost a large portion of their clientele: government employees who work in Lansing’s government buildings.

Now, with Michigan state employees set to resume semi-normal work hours on May 2, these restaurants are eagerly awaiting steady foot traffic.

“If the state employees are there, we are happy,” Soubani said. “If they’re not, that’s a big deal.”

Autumn Weston, fourth generation owner of Weston Kewpee Sandwich Shop at 118 S. Washington Square, said most of their business before the pandemic was foot traffic by state employees.

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But lunchtime has picked up again in the past two weeks, and Weston said the recent uptick ignited a flame after two stressful years at the helm of the restaurant.

Curbside transportation and reduced hours have helped the 99-year-old restaurant weather the pandemic. Weston said she hopes they can return to a full schedule soon, perhaps expanding their list of regulars.

2020: Kewpee Sandwich Shoppe serves Lansing amid COVID-19 restrictions

“You run with vapers and you show up because you love what you do,” she said. “But seeing new faces, you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Seeing a new face is a bit like receiving a bouquet of flowers.”

Pedestrian traffic moves along South Washington Square during lunchtime Friday, April 29, 2022, in downtown Lansing.

Ali Alkasti, owner of Sahara Delight at 119 S. Washington Square, said he has seen business slowly improve over the past few months. He hopes returning state workers will bring him some of his pre-pandemic profits.

“All downtown business is dependent on the state and city employees. If they’re not there, we close,” he said. “We want to pay all the bills and have an easy life, like everyone else.”

What’s new for lunch downtown?

Over the past two years, new restaurants have moved into downtown storefronts. Here is an example of a board of new destinations to get out of the office.

Social laziness

Family Turkish Coffee Social laziness opened in fall 2020, so state employees who returned in previous waves may have already visited. The cafe, located at 301 S. Washington Square, offers Turkish coffee, a range of pide flatbreads, Turkish meatballs called kofte, homemade baklava and more.

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sweet encounter

Located on the ground floor of the Knapp’s Building (300 S. Washington Square), Sweet Encounter Bakery & Cafe moved to its permanent downtown location after a stint at Middle Village, an incubator market that hopes to grow small businesses until they can become long-term downtown tenants. Owned by Nikki Thompson Frazier, the bakery offers pastries and sweets in addition to breakfast and lunch sandwiches. (But a cupcake can also be lunch).

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Fast casual African-inspired eatery Tse, located at 221 S. Washington Square, offers bowls with vegetables, yams, chicken, beans, fufu and egusi. Owner Taiwo Adeleye moved into the downtown storefront earlier this year, taking over the empty location that previously housed For Crêpe Sake, which has since moved to East Lansing.

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Contact journalist Annabel Aguiar at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @annabelaguiar.

David H. Henry