A steaming bowl of seafood chowder, dotted with oyster crackers, and thick with cream, may not be what you’d typically crave in early August, searching for a place to grab a quick dinner. It brings to mind fishermen in yellow raincoats, heavy fog rolling towards the shore, and a distinct chill in the air. But who doesn’t love a rich seafood chowder, especially when the corporate world you travel through is a world of climate controlled offices, adjustable air vents, and drafty meeting rooms?
It’s summer in Michigan, and there’s heat all around, but in Lansing there’s a trend towards being thankful for all that the state has to offer. On the drive there, I hear the “Pure Michigan” add campaign on the radio, which has evolved over several years. Unexpectedly, I stumbled upon one of the “Thank You Michigan” murals, on the side of the Soup Spoon Cafe.
If the gratitude is in the details, this public installation asks passersby to join in and express what it is that they are most grateful for. A metal container houses pieces of chalk that have been worn down into rough nubs. Visitors express that which they are most grateful for, and make themselves a part of this public expression of gratitude. Other companies join in as sponsors, but it seems that the Soup Spoon is the only one that welcomes you with a bowl of comfort food.
I was guided to the Soup Spoon Café because I was seeking out local vegetarian / vegan fare. Unsure if soup is what I wanted, in this heat, I was convinced by the slogan that runs across their menu. . . “Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat at Chain Restaurants.” I was definitely on board with that!
A busy place among locals, this restaurant was filling up quickly between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, as workers punch the clock and make their way to dinner. I was glad to get a table with an easy view of the entrance and the kitchen, so I could take in all of the activity, and get a peek at what is most popular on the menu. Besides the 6 soups that are on offer each day, including a daily vegetarian option, there is a Naan of the day, served as a kind of flatbread pizza. Busy again the next day, around 1 pm, I was just behind the lunch rush, and not shy about ordering a glass of Pinot Grigio. The long list of wines available was accompanied by a line of beers on tap, and a full liquor bar.
What impressed me the most, however, was this cafe’s commitment to local art. The wait staff didn’t have a lot of information to give me about who the artist was. But I persisted, and asked for the restaurant’s General Manager, so I could learn more. Rob Shellburg’s work is colorful, and intense. If you want to see him in action, have a look at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUuEESBG8qw .
The art doesn’t stop at the door to the restaurant, and there is local art all throughout the neighborhood. The “Thank You Michigan” mural is on the outside wall of the restaurant, facing its parking lot. In the blocks surrounding the café there are numerous murals, by a variety of local artists. You’ll find splashes of bright color, but there’s real content in these works. I hope to have more time one day to explore them further, and discover where I can see more of the artists’ work!
Down the road I was stopped in my tracks by a mural that is meant to draw in the local community. Painted as a collaboration of teenage locals, the playful display is on the side of the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. The center offers a haven for those seeking a safe place to explore their talents, declaring that they are “Helping Women Realize their Potential”. Focused on women’s services, this site provides workshops, employment assistance, support groups, and counseling.
There’s a clear feeling that Lansing is focused on community, from its food to its art, to its social services. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I hope it’s for more than just 24 hours next time!
Join me on the next adventure!
Lansing, MI: http://www.lansingmi.gov/
Soup Spoon: http://soupspooncafe.com/
Artist Rob Shellburg: https://www.facebook.com/robertshellburg/