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A tour of memory and food in Lansing this Saturday

Jul 24, 2015

When the Historical Society of Greater Lansing hosted an oral history with the owner of Lansing's longstanding Jim's Tiffany restaurant, more than 80 people showed up to listen. Inspired by the success of that event, the group is hosting a walking tour of famous Downtown Lansing eateries tomorrow (Saturday, July 25). 

A menu from Dine's restaurant, featuring frog legs and snails in garlic sauce.
Credit Historical Society of Greater Lansing

"I quickly realized that the places we eat are associated with very special memories," said society President Valerie Marvin. "Whether it is going to prom, whether it is the place where someone had their wedding breakfast, whether it is the place where maybe you first experienced the cuisine from another culture."

Through conversations sparked at that first event, and continued in-person and online, the Society figured out what restaurants people had attachments too; like Foo Ying's cafe, a restaurant that many Lansing residents said was their first taste of Chinese food.

Marvin said she's heard it was also popular among younger patrons for a different reason; private booths gave them a chance to snuggle up during dinner. 

It's being called a tour of "lost" restaurants, even though two stops on the route still serve food. Marvin said they're old enough to have a forgotten history--Weston's Kewpee Burger (Slogan: Hamburg with pickle on top, makes your heart go flippity-flop") is unofficially the longest continually-running downtown Lansing restaurant. 

Marvin said research involved combing through oral histories, news articles, city directories,  advertisements and stacks of menus to find restaurants to feature.

"It's interesting to see how food changes, not only in what restaurants serve but also in the prices and the popularity," she said. 

Historical Society of Greater Lansing archives reveal Sanka instant coffee as a "class, avant-garde" offering on restaurant menus in the 60s.
Credit Flickr user Roadsidpictures under CC License http://bit.ly/1eBd9Ks

She said one particularly "classy, avant-garde" restaurant that opened in the 60s proudly offered Sanka (instant decaf coffee). Other forgotten food trends: liver and onions, and turtle soup.

The tour will be led by Gary Koelsch, a retired history teacher and society volunteer. It starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday and leaves from Lansing City Hall.

-Paula Friedrich, Michigan Radio Newsroom