Lowell residents may have a new dining choice in the downtown next year. A restaurant group has purchased the former Serenity Club building at 101 W. Main Street on the Flat River and plans to convert it into a Mexican restaurant with outdoor dining on a wraparound patio.
“We’re moving full-speed ahead,” says Brent Slagell, one of the owners. While he would like to have the restaurant ready for business by the end of the year, he acknowledges a 2021 opening is more realistic. He notes, “It would be nice to get it open in 2020, but I’m not sure that’s possible.”
Tentatively called Rio Plano Taqueria, the eatery is expected to have a limited menu focused on street tacos, street corn and beans and rice dishes. It will also serve up tequila flights and margarita flights, and takeout will be available.
Building Renovation Will Restore Historic Elements
The building at 101 W. Main Street predates the Flat River dam by about six years, according to historical records. Slagell says the property was constructed in 1890 and originally housed the Lowell Post Office. It was likely located on dry land at that time but was surrounded by water later when the dam was constructed to coincide with the establishment of the Lowell Municipal Light and Power plant in 1896.
As part of converting the building to a restaurant, Slagell hopes to restore the front façade to reflect its original look. That will mean removing the French Quarter-styled balcony that was added at a later date.
Inside, the drop ceiling will be removed and the original ceiling height of approximately 13 feet restored. The floor will need to be raised slightly though to create enough clearance in the basement to meet code requirements for a storage space. Windows and doors will be aligned to match the original appearance of the building as much as possible.
Unique Space Presents Opportunities, Challenges
With its location in the middle of the water, the building is uniquely situated to offer unobstructed views of not only the Flat River but also the new Showboat once it is installed next year.
Although the interior design has not yet been finalized, Slagell envisions a garage door-style window at the rear of the building that can be opened in good weather to create an indoor-outdoor experience. By placing a bar near the window, drinks could easily be served to those both inside and out on the patio. While there wouldn’t be enough space for boats to dock, Slagell would like to create a way for kayakers to access the patio and visit the restaurant while they out on the river.
Because of the building’s small footprint, a wraparound patio is key to making the plans for Rio Plano Taqueria viable. Slagell estimates he can seat 60 people inside the restaurant, but a three-season patio could offer room for 40 more diners. The patio is also important to provide a second fire exit and an accessible ramp into the building.
However, any patio built over the Flat River will need approval from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy. Slagell has already submitted preliminary paperwork to the department and hopes to meet with a representative shortly to discuss the matter.
“I want it to be a fun and inviting atmosphere,” Slagell says. For the second floor of the building, he’d like to add four boutique hotel rooms to help encourage people to make Lowell an overnight destination.
If all goes according to plan, at this time next year, Lowell residents could be eating authentic Mexican food in one of the city’s most unique and historic spaces.