What’s for lunch in downtown Lansing? State workers return to a changed landscape

These days, it’s hard for Abdullah Soubani to know when it will be busy at his downtown restaurant Sultan’s Express. It depends on the weather, the state of COVID, whether the state legislature is in session. This week, that could change. Two years ago, downtown lunch restaurants lost a major chunk of their customer base: the state employees who work in Lansing’s government buildings. Now, as Michigan’s state employees are set to resume semi-normal work schedules May 2, those restaurants are looking forward to regular foot traffic. “If the state employees are here, we’re happy,” Soubani said. “If they’re not, it’s a big problem.”

Curbside carryout and reduced hours helped keep the 99-year-old restaurant going through the pandemic. Weston said she’s hopeful they’ll be able to return to a full schedule soon, maybe expanding their roster of regulars. “You run on fumes and you show up because you love what you do,” she said. “But seeing new faces, you know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Seeing a new face is kind of like getting a bouquet of flowers.”