In a world filled with chain restaurants and fast food, local restaurants have to work extra hard to lure customers. But when the food and atmosphere are as great as the Soup Spoon Café
, the task is considerably easier.
Located on Lansing's Eastside
at 1419 Michigan Ave., just past Sparrow Hospital, the Soup Spoon Café has carved itself a delicious niche. It not only offers its namesake soup, but a wide variety of beverages, sandwiches and other tasty treats.
At the helm of the Soup Spoon is Lansing native, owner and chef, Nick Gavrilides.
Gavrilides, 33, opened the café three years ago this month. “I went out East for awhile and then came back to Lansing,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be my own boss. I’ve always felt that working for myself was the best deal.”
With an open kitchen, jazz and a quirky staff, the atmosphere in the Soup Spoon is similar to that of a European cafe. The intimate setting acts as a catalyst for familiarity, as the staff warmly greats regulars by their names. It is the kind of experience one can only get at a local restaurant.Always a Start Up
Starting up the Soup Spoon didn’t happen right away. Gavrilides first opened a record store in East Lansing while in his early 20s.
“We mixed records for fun at parties," he explains, "and they’re very expensive, so we decided it’d be a good idea to sell them to get cheap records.”
Gavrilides opened Spin Cycle Records with a couple of friends in the early 90s. The shop specialized in electronic music and was only open for a few years. Gavrilides left the store after about a year.
“It wasn’t very lucrative, so I started getting more into the restaurant business," he says. After the record store, Gavrilides found work as an executive chef in nearby Owosso. "I focused my energy into this, into being a chef. I realized that’s where my talent lies."
After awhile though, Gavrilides was ready for a change. “I did that for about three years," he says. "The commute [from Lansing] was a little much for me. . . I didn’t get a lot of time at home with the family. So, we decided to take a shot at starting one [a restaurant] down here, close to our home.”
Starting a second business after one wasn’t too successful didn’t deter Gavrilides.
They're "completely different businesses," he says. "I got into running kitchens and being a chef and management of restaurants, and felt there was a need and potential entrance point into the market—right there, right now—so I grabbed the opportunity.”
The location that eventually became the Soup Spoon Café was a blank canvas waiting for Gavrilides’ touch. “It was an empty shell when we got here. Just a white box. So, we painted, brought in the all the furniture, all the artwork and the decorations, all the fixtures, signage, all the equipment. Basically, everything.”Second Time’s the Charm
“I’ve always loved cooking and I found out I had a knack for it," says Gavrilides, whose skills come not only from natural talent, but also from his apprenticeships and the connections he’s made with different chefs over the years.
“I apprenticed with some really nice chefs, lived with some good chefs and had the luck of being around some really talented people.”
He’s picked up something—the soups and sandwiches at the Soup Spoon are delicious. While Gavrilides wouldn’t pick a favorite, he names a few standouts. “The Soprano sandwich is very popular; our Seafood Chowder is our most popular soup. Our pan-seared Salmon is probably one of our most popular entrees.”
The Soup Spoon’s clientele is, according to Gavrilides, a good cross section. “We get a lot of students, but we get a lot of older people, too. If I had to nail it down to one [demographic] I would say the business professional.” And building that clientele did not take very long.
“We had pretty steady customers right out of the gate," he says, "and we still have regulars that were here the second day we opened.”
The Soup Spoon also offers a catering service—Cutting Edge Catering.
“We have a lot of catering, and we’re always looking for more,” says Gavrilides. “It keeps us busy.” Giving Back
Gavrilides and The Soup Spoon also give back to the local community.
“We’re a member of the Capital Area Local First
,” he says, referring to a group that focuses on supporting independent, locally own businesses. “We try to use as many local products as we can. We get our eggs from a local farmer. We get our syrup from a local farm. We try to utilize the local homegrown products as best we can.”
The restaurant also donates gift certificates to charity events, such as silent auctions.
“We specifically wanted this location, because we liked the look of the building. It was the size we wanted to go with," he says. "Plus, we’re close to the hospital, and we do a lot of catering for doctor offices, drug reps and equipment reps, so it was a good proximity to a lot of our catering business.”
But that wasn’t the only reason. Easy Eastsider
“We like to be on Michigan Avenue and near the downtown area—we’re fans of Downtown Lansing
The location has helped Gavrilides carve out a bit of a niche. “In this area of the city, there’s really a lack of any kind of sit-down dining, and a lot of people don’t want to go Downtown,” he says, adding that he has a lot of customers who come all the way from Okemos for breakfast and lunch. “There wasn’t a lot of competition in this spot.”
Gavrilides is happy with his Eastside location because he’s personally invested in the neighborhood as well—he owns a house two blocks from the Café, and has lived there for more than 10 years.
Looking ahead, Gavrilides eventually wants to add dinner service soon, and eventually beer and wine sales, too. “We’re going to stay here, but we are going to expand to a dinner service,” he says.To receive Capital Gains free every week, click here.
Daniel J. Hogan
is a blogger, freelance writer and creator of the Magic of Eyri Podcast
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Nick Gavrilides at the Soup Soon Cafe
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie