Les Molnar and his restaurant group are starting 2017 by expanding one of their most popular restaurants to the state capital.
After opening three businesses in Detroit in five years — Green Dot Stables, Johnny Noodle King and Huron Room — Molnar and partners are gearing up to open another Green Dot in Lansing.
This comes just after launching a revamped menu at their seafood restaurant Huron Room (2547 Bagley). Molnar also got married last year to his business partner Christine Driscoll’s sister. This led to the re-branding of their partnership to Inlaws Hospitality, which includes Jacques and Christine Driscoll and Les and Jessica Molnar.
“Even though it seems from the outside like we’ve got this huge thing going on, which we do, we really do operate like a mom-and-pop shop, for better or worse,” Molnar said last week when I caught up with him at the Michigan-themed Huron Room where he spends the majority of his time these days. “I think we’ve all come out better for it.”
All the partners attended Michigan State except Les (he went to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago), so opening a restaurant in Lansing makes sense to them. It’s at 410 S. Clipper where Whiskey Barrel Saloon was. They’ll broom the country western theme and bring over the sliders and harness racing motif of Detroit’s Green Dot.
If all goes well, Molnar said they would consider opening more Green Dot restaurants outside of Detroit.
Set to open as early as this summer, the Lansing Green Dot isn’t the first outpost of the popular Corktown bar and restaurant. The group also lent their name and concept to restauranteurs who wanted to open a Green Dot in Malaysia.
That’s right, there’s a Green Dot Stables in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Inlaws Hospitality has nothing to do with the overseas business aside from sharing a name. The restaurant serves the signature tiny burgers — although they were totally unfamiliar with the concept of sliders at first — as well as local cuisine.
Molnar says Johnny Noodle King is “definitely on an uptick” and there’s still often a two-hour wait to get seated at Corktown’s Green Dot during peak times. The Huron Room, however, needed some attention.
Located across from Mexican Village, the Huron Room opened last fall with a Great Lakes theme that included locally caught fish and a bar that only stocked Michigan-made beer, wine and liquor. This concept proved to be difficult to execute and Molnar admits it was ambitious.
“Our vision for this place in the beginning was kind of like an every man’s Joe Muer,” Molar said. “We wanted to offer such Michigan-centric things that we really didn’t anticipate or take into consideration that maybe Lake Erie is frozen and we can’t get fresh yellow perch or walleye ... or maybe because it was frozen it’s available, but it’s $15 a pound.”
“Now you gotta charge a Michigander 20-something bucks for perch. You don’t pay that for perch,” said Molar, who was born and raised in the Delray area of Detroit. “You go to Elks Club and you get $10 all-you-can-eat.”
Molnar said he invited his two Huron Room chefs — Michael Lloyd and Megan Wonnacott — to his house for a night to hammer out a new menu that was easier to execute and better for the customer.
“We got some wine and I was like ‘no one’s leaving this house until we have a fun menu that we’re all proud of that we know can work that we all put our heart and soul into,’ ” he said.
The new menu, which launched a few weeks ago, highlights fish, but also Michigan comforts that Molnar says is inspired by European-American food and “up north food.”
Oysters are $12 for a half dozen, or a “buck a shuck” during happy hour. Frog legs, grilled venison poppers, hush puppies, smoked trout dip, pretzels and “clobster” nachos are all on the app list, along with chicken wings seasoned with Old Bay. The new menu also has city chicken, chowder and a smaller “minnows menu” for kids.
Molnar also added a “pasta Delvecchio” dish, which is a nod to his favorite Red Wing player, Alex Delvecchio, not an Old World dish.
Now the perch comes from Europe instead of Erie, but it’s the same species as the lake perch. They still offer walleye, too, and have added cod as an option. All three types of fish are available as fish and chips, and there’s also a “big cod dinner,” featuring a pound of beer-battered fish with fries and slaw.
“It’s given us the ability to hone in on our business a little bit better and give back to the customer,” says Molnar, adding that because the fish is more consistent in price they can offer bigger portions, and they do.
The bar still has only Michigan beers on tap and a whole shelf of locally-made spirits, but someone can order a bottle of High Life or a Tito’s vodka and soda.
Huron Room is open Mon.-Thurs. at 3 p.m. and 11 a.m. Fri.-Sun. with a brunch menu available until 3 p.m. Molnar says his next step is to open Huron Room daily for lunch like his other restaurants.