EL REWIND: The Peanut Barrel
Photo: courtesy of Joe Bell
The Peanut Barrel has been an East Lansing staple for decades. Locally owned and operated, the restaurant features award-winning burgers, a selection of beer and mixed drinks, and an outdoor patio that can be seen while driving down Grand River. ELi spoke with its current owners, Jennifer and Joe Bell, to learn more about the Peanut Barrel’s beginnings and current traditions.
Originally built as a Jacks or Better Restaurant in 1973, the restaurant switched its name to the Peanut Barrel in just a year. At the turn of the decade, the restaurant also switched owners. “My wife and I had worked for the original owner [Gordon and Carol Smith] back in the early 70's,” Joe Bell explained. “He wanted to sell in late 1979 and we were without employment at that time. A deal was struck with the landlord and a sales agreement was put together.”
The famous patio was added in 1983, and the restaurant never turned back. Throughout the years, they’ve added several popular items like the Long Island Iced Tea, The Papa Joe Burger and The Rodeo Burger. The peanut shell tradition began when the store opened in 1973. “Shells were thrown on the floor until lawsuit fears from our insurance carrier asked us to change that practice and to ask customers to put the shells in a bowl,” Bell says.
The restaurant attracts a wide variety of people every day. Bell tells us, “Depending on the time of day, and day of the week you will find all sorts of people. Students, professors, MSU staff, ‘townies’, and families, you name it.” When asked why he thinks the restaurant has been able to stay so popular, he explains, “Just being around for 42 years is part of the draw. When the smoking ban went into effect that opened our business up to a much wider customer base.”
Further adding to the restaurant’s success is a large and loyal group of regulars. “Probably the most well-known group is the afternoon group of regulars known as "The Choir,” he says. “Choir practice is held daily from 4:30 to 6:30. They meet at the PB but socialize outside of our place [also]... at one such event in a particular backyard there was chamber music played. Nice party.”
There is also an interesting league at the Peanut Barrel. “Our Monday night dart league has been around since 1981. The players have changed but the fun continues for two sessions each year,” Bell says.
No matter what traditions or events take place, it is clear that the Peanut Barrel has and will continue to be a popular meeting place for the people of East Lansing. The humble Bell says “I wouldn't say we are in any way important to EL but we like to think we are part of the community.” Many may disagree with his first statement, believing the Peanut Barrel to be a very important part of East Lansing, but they can all agree that it is indeed a part of the community.
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