Charlie Kang’s Gets Permission to Sell Alcohol

Thursday, September 14, 2017, 7:19 am
Alice Dreger

On Tuesday, September 12, East Lansing’s City Council voted 4-0 to grant Charlie Kang’s restaurant a Special Use Permit for the sale of alcohol to customers. The long-time downtown East Lansing establishment has not previously sold alcohol but wants to do so after it moves to its new location.

The restaurant is currently located at 127 East Grand River Avenue in a building slated to be demolished for the Center City District project. The Balleins, whose business owns the building, are preparing another one of their properties to be Charlie Kang’s new location. That is at 109 East Grand River Avenue (shown below), next door to the new location of the Verizon dealer, Cellular & More.

Charlie Kang’s new location will include a bar that can seat up to six people. The new space will increase the total capacity of the restaurant from 88 to 90.

The lawyer for Charlie Kang’s told Council that his client wanted permission to stay open serving alcohol as late as midnight, even understanding that serving past 11 p.m. would put the restaurant into a category that triggers special (and some say onerous) reporting requirements. Serving alcohol until midnight means having to follow East Lansing’s “50/50” law, by which all but a few grandfathered bars and restaurants must show that at least 50% of their revenue comes from the sale of non-alcoholic products, including food.

The 50/50 law was created to try to ensure that East Lansing would not be overtaken by college bars, but some have said that it has failed and needs to be rescinded. (Read more.) This Council has indicated it wants to revisit the 50/50 rule, possibly to get rid of it, but movement has not yet been made on this.

East Lansing’s Director of Planning Tim Dempsey told ELi after Tuesday’s Council meeting that Planning staff has simply been too busy to get review of the issue back onto Planning Commission’s agenda, which has to happen before Council can make a decision. Planning Commission has lately been operating without full membership, and Planning Commission and Planning staff have been dealing with an unusually heavy load of work this year.

Planning Commission had earlier reviewed the request from Charlie Kang’s for the Special Use Permit to serve alcohol and supported that request unanimously.

The only real debate on the matter at Council involved the question of how late to require the kitchen to stay open. Councilmembers wanted to make sure the restaurant doesn’t simply turn into a bar—so they wanted to require that the restaurant keep serving food until near closing time—but also did not want to force the restaurant to have to keep the kitchen open until the very last minute of its stated operating hours.

Ultimately Council voted to give permission to serve alcohol until midnight and to require the kitchen to stay open until at least 11:30. Charlie Kang’s can elect to close earlier if the owner wishes, but by virtue of having permission to serve alcohol until midnight, it will now have to follow the 50/50 rule and its reporting requirements.

Councilmembers Mark Meadows (Mayor), Ruth Beier (Mayor Pro Tem), Erik Altmann, and Susan Woods were in attendance and voted in favor. Councilmember Shanna Draheim was absent.