When most people picture East Lansing, they think of the “strip” of Grand River Avenue. One long-standing business, the Peanut Barrel, is a mainstay known for its Long Islands and burgers. The renowned patio that looks out over Michigan State University has hosted Spartans, their family and friends for decades.
In July 2022, the local restaurant sold. However, the legacy the Barrel has held onto for close to 50 years is not going anywhere anytime soon if new owner Michael Krueger has anything to say about it.
Krueger, owner and general manager of Crunchy’s to the west on Grand River, is no stranger to East Lansing. He’s been the owner of Crunchy’s since July 2015, after working there for five years before purchasing the business. When Krueger was not on shift at his bar and restaurant, he enjoyed relaxing after work or on his days off down the street at the Peanut Barrel.
“My wife and I have been regulars at the Peanut Barrel for as long as we can remember,” he said. “I’ve been coming here since I was 21, so about 22 years.”
A few years ago, Krueger mentioned to long-time owners Joe and Jennifer Bell that if they were ever interested in selling the business, he would be interested in taking over. Eventually, that time came last fall when the Bells decided it was time to retire.
“They reached out and we started talking about things, and they let some other people know it was available as well. Ultimately, they ended up choosing me over the others,” Krueger said. “We came to an agreement by the end of 2021 and we actually took over in July 2022.”
The decision made Krueger excited, but nervous. While both are restaurants and bars in downtown East Lansing, Krueger said each has its own specialty and own unique atmosphere.
“The clientele over here at the Peanut Barrel is a little more seasoned,” he said. “They’ve got regulars who have been coming here for 30 or 40 years – as long as Joe and Jen have been a part of it.”
Crunchy’s regulars consist more of the student demographic and those who belt out their favorite tunes on karaoke nights. The menu includes everything from wings to wraps to pizzas and other entrees. Peanut Barrel is well-known for its Long island iced teas, burgers and picturesque, people-watching patio.
“It’s fun to have two businesses that do things differently, sort of competing against each other in a way, but with a lot of similar clientele and great staff, fortunately,” Krueger said.
Most of the Barrel staff has stuck around throughout the transition, with Meghan Bell (daughter of Joe and Jen) continuing to help on a part-time basis. Assistant manager Jill Crane and the kitchen manager have also been helpful in covering shifts and handling the day-to-day tasks, Krueger said.
Since the sale, Krueger has not heard any complaints from staff or customers. With the return of MSU students, and the largest freshman class, the energy downtown East Lansing is palpable.
“It’s cool to have a whole bunch of new people in town,” he said. ”Hopefully, we can get them to experience the good food and the good vibes here.”
Krueger has no big plans for changing the version of the Peanut Barrel which frequent diners have come to know and love.
“The goal is really to keep the legacy going, and to make Joe and Jen proud of their decision,” he said. “It’s a well-oiled machine that they’ve got going here. I just wanted to keep that going and not allow anyone else to take it over and change things up too much.”
For fellow East Lansing business owners, Andrew and Monica Gauthier, co-owners of Groovy Donuts, the Peanut Barrel holds many special memories. The pair even had their wedding reception there.
“Monica and I aren’t your typical bride and groom,” Andrew Gauthier said. “Having a wedding at a burger joint isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But name me a more beautiful location in June than the patio at the Peanut Barrel. The credible reponses to that question are few and far between.”
Gauthier said he and Monica shared countless meals there during his college days. The location is still a go-to for pre-game basketball and football meals, and an after-work hangout spot for the couple.
“The Peanut Barrel is also where the initial seed of an idea for Groovy Donuts was planted,” he said. ”I had ducked in out of the cold February weather to warm up with a burger and a Guinness and, during conversation with my dining partner, I started talking through the rough draft of what eventually became Groovy Donuts.”
The businesses went on to have donut collaborations, including fritter burgers and Long Island donuts for National Donut Day.
“We love the atmosphere and most of all that it really hasn’t changed since the first burger I’ve eaten there,” Gauthier said. “It looks like Mike is taking that seriously and keeping the Barrel’s tradition intact.
“It should say something that every time a good friend of mine visits the Lansing area, there is really no question where we will be meeting…it’s just a matter of what day and time we’re meeting at ‘the Barrel.’”
Disclosure: Crunchy’s is the financial sponsor of ELi’s weekly newsletter and Mike Krueger is also a donor.