It will be like walking through a time capsule, transporting visitors back to the days of secret password entries and dark, dimly-lit, secret speakeasies. While The GOAT on Grand River will be East Lansing’s newest bar and restaurant, its theme comes from the 1920s.
The feeling of a speakeasy will be created with decor such as window clings giving a blackout appearance from the exterior. Inside, timely decor, outfits and theatrics will create a unique dining experience.
Co-owner Mel Spencley said The GOAT, located in the old Cosmos/Punk Taco at 1351 E. Grand River Ave., has plans to open sometime in April. Spencley is the event organizer and owns the business with Nancy Gilbert and Dustin “Chef Dustie” Morrell.
After hosting a reggae festival and cannabis events throughout Michigan, the trio looked into opening a restaurant locally and were inspired by the speakeasies found in other states. Although traveling to Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Detroit for specialty bars and themed dining experiences is enjoyable for Spencley, the trio hopes to make East Lansing a dining destination.
Co-owners want The GOAT on Grand River to be at the forefront of dining experiences.
“I really want to make this a destination. East Lansing is a great place,” Spencley said. “My son graduated from there, my partner graduated from there, we both worked on campus for 8-10 years. I am a huge East Lansing and Spartan fan. I’m so excited for the City of East Lansing. I love the people here, and I think this is what we need here to hopefully have people start coming here.”
The business plans to feature live entertainment including live music by MSU Jazz Band graduates, murder mysteries, comedy shows, magicians, drag queen brunches, drag bingo events, virtual-run fundraisers, outdoor movie nights and networking events.
“As soon as we open the curtain to the restaurant, our staff will be put on display and entertaining people,” Spencley said. “Our hostesses will be in flapper dresses and our bartender will be flipping bottles.”
Chef Dustie will be creating tapas, family-style plates and much more.
When it comes to The GOAT menu, with Chef Dustie at the helm it will include tapas and family-style plates with chicken, pastas, tacos and a special olive burger named after Spencley’s late mother.
“His experience, passion and his love for food is really going to show,” Spencley said.
Chef Dustie brings local roots to The Goat having grown up on a horse farm in DeWitt.
“I’ve always been in the kitchen cooking for a small village, as my mom would state,” he said. “I call myself an amateur cook who turned professional. I learned everything through my mother, who was a great cook and teacher.”
After being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2009, he was inspired to overhaul his diet and become a chef. Chef Dustie has worked at The Chop House in Grand Rapids, The Great Lakes Loons and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Chef Dustie brings an interesting culinary vision for The GOAT menu.
“We’re going to offer tapas and family-style meals with a seasonal flair. It’s to promote sustainability, and farm-to-table raised types of meal prep and food,” he said. “We’ll use local farmers and, each season, we’ll have changing menus for all of our tapas and family-style menus.”
The smaller tapas plates are more formal, but encourage options and the trial of different flavors, Chef Dustie said.
“We do have a tapas tasting flight where you can pick three small plate options, and it will give you three to four bites per option,” he said. “When you have three or four friends with you and you all order a flight, you can taste practically everything on the menu.”
The spring menu will include a rotation of wood-fired subs, burgers, charcuterie, vegan options, as well as gruyere, pancetta mashed potato croquette.
“It’s a mashed potato ball that is fried, and you get your cheese, meat, and potato all in one. It will be served with Uncle John’s hard cider spiked cheese,” Chef Dustie said.
“Being the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time, we’ll also feature goat meat. We have a marinated goat empanada, with queso fresco cheese, cilantro, and lime. We’ll also have a crispy lavender lemongrass calamari, so we have a dish for all palettes.”
Chef Dustie hopes to create a following for foodies, international students and families. “I want people to be able to come in, experience upscale food, without breaking their pocketbook.”
Spencley said customers will also be able to try different menu items with flights of food.
“I go places when I’m traveling and I wish I could try two or three of the things on the menu. Well, now you can. There will be three to four bites of something, and you’ll get six of them.”
Restaurant hopes to open phase one in April and the second phase in August.
Right now, the restaurant is in the process of getting permits from the City of East Lansing but is hoping to officially open in April. A local farm even reached out to the business with the idea of creating an official fainting goat mascot to be available for future events.
For the second phase projected in August, the business will expand to include a secret back room. The GOAT will host private events in the back room on Mondays and Tuesdays, with a secret “hush word”’ found on social media, in order to enter the venue.
They also plan to host outdoor events, in conjunction with other local businesses, inviting customers to bring takeout from other local restaurants.
“It will be a top-of-the-line, private speakeasy with a secret door,” Spencley said of the backroom area, which will serve top shelf brandies and liquor to 20 to 30 people.
Despite the restaurant being more upscale, Spencley is happy to welcome anyone and everyone to the business, regardless of attire.
“If there’s a football game and people are going to come here in Spartan gear and jeans, that’s fine. But we also do have people that are already excited to dress in 1920s attire when they come in for a date night,” Spencley said. “There’s nothing like this in Lansing or East Lansing, so why not try to make this a destination that everybody can enjoy.”
The GOAT is currently hiring for positions including bartenders and front and back-of-house employees. Chef Dusty will be meeting with potential applicants this Friday and Saturday (March 16-17) at the restaurant, and people can drop by the business any time to pick up an application.