Howellpalooza: Latson Road, fancy food, movie stars

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ThreesignsofHowellIf you put your ear to the ground, you’ll hear the faint rumble of something in the distance. It’s the sound of vibrations — good, good, good, good vibrations — heading Howell’s way.

There is so much good stuff happening in the area; the energy is palpable.

Three things in particular are changing life the way we’ve always known it.

1. Latson Road

Once the new I-96/Latson Road interchange opens this fall, life as we know it will be forever changed.

Road signI go out of my way to drive by the interchange construction a couple times a week, even though it’s out of my way. It’s like I am witnessing the birth of the new economic center of Livingston County.

latson drawing
Latson Road project art from

For so long, Livingston County’s economic scales tipped firmly to the east. But the second the ribbon is cut on the new interchange and the traffic starts to flow, all that changes; the economic energy that will be unleashed can’t be underestimated.

The $32 million project is the result of a tremendous community effort that brought together movers and shakers from the smallest local units of Livingston County government all the way to Congress; it’s also a sign of the tremendous faith in the future prosperity of the area.

This new interchange will open a development corridor like none we’ve seen before in Livingston County. It’s a perfect location for a hospital, or large manufacturer, and I am sure that in addition to some of the requisite hotel/motel, off-ramp restaurant and gas station businesses, there will be lots of new homes sprouting up, too.

Genoa Township officials are currently working on a plan for the area, a task I don’t envy: The possibilities are endless.


RootArt2. Fancy food

There are lots of great restaurants in Howell; mine is a face familiar at most. While these restaurants do a wonderful job feeding the locals, none has the star power of The French Laundry in Fenton or the Common Grill in Chelsea.

That’s changing.

The Root Restaurant & Bar, the Detroit Free Press 2012 Restaurant of the Year, is gearing up to transform the Howell Theater into what I predict will be southeast Michigan’s most-famous eatery.

Many in Howell have for years suffered from Brighton restaurant envy. Every upscale and chain establishment opening in Brighton has prompted the “why do they get all the restaurants?” whine.

Well, whine no more! The Root will be a grand destination, drawing diners from near and far. Who wouldn’t like to eat locally grown, creatively prepared food in a former movie house?

Chef James Regato (photo courtesy
Chef James Rigato (photo courtesy

The Howell Theater has a starring role in the charming backstory of The Root’s newest project: Executive Chef James Rigato, a Howell High School grad, could see the Howell Theater’s marquee as a kid from the window of his bedroom in his mom’s Clinton Street home.

Now, he’s opening what will be the region’s signature restaurant.

Why Howell?

“No one knows this town like I know this town,” Rigato said in an interview with The Livingston Post a few months ago. “It’s my town, and I believe in it.”

And we believe in The Root.

Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield are Howell’s newest (and, currently, most-famous) residents. (Photo from Gilbert’s Instagram site.)

3. Movie stars

The “Howellwood” phrase was coined during my days at the Daily Press & Argus when a movie was filming in the city. It came back to me when we learned Melissa Gilbert of “Little House on the Prairie” fame and her husband, Timothy Busfield of “thirtysomething” and “West Wing,” had moved to my downtown Howell neighborhood.

Downtown Howell!

After settling on Livingston County, these stars could’ve picked anywhere to live. Less densely populated areas in a township would have afforded them more square footage and privacy, but they chose instead to become part of a neighborhood and community.

How really and truly cool is that?

The two have been out and about all over town. From all accounts, they are charming, accommodating and down-to-earth.

So, why did these Hollywood types, folks who could live anywhere, choose Howell?

Perhaps they put their ears to the ground and heard those good vibrations heading this way!

(Read Buddy Moorehouse’s post on Gilbert and Busfield coming to Howell by clicking here.)

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About Maria Stuart 122 Articles
Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse.


  1. Jeff I remember eating at The Clock as a child and seeing the series of restaurants it has since become. Maggie I would have supported Howell theater but until recently I was living in Lansing.

  2. I think the changes are exciting. Come on folks, did you really support the Howell theatre? WHen I did go, you were lucky to have all of 10 people. The Latson rd interchange is 10 years overdue. Now if we could just get an upscale meat and fruit market where Sefas was would be great. Really do we need another dollar/discount store. I dont think so.

  3. Heather is right this town is getting to big, taking out to much of the countryside to build more housing communities. Why does The Root have to take out the Howell Theater? I wanted a chance to take my kids to at least one place in this town that their father and I went on dates as a kid. We only recently moved back here and that was my plan once things settled down but now I won’t have that chance. I find it said that a Howell student who would watch from his house as a kid the marquee and yet want to destroy this landmark. I am sure there are other areas this restaurant could have been built in Howell.
    Sad that even the McDonald’s where I met my husband was closed so they could build 3 more like that makes sense. I am glad they have a Aldi now least we can say Howell got theirs before Brighton.

  4. Howell isn’t going to be Howell anymore. I like it the way it is right now, not full of more empty strip malls, not full of more destroyed farmland. I don’t want the traffic to get worse, I don’t want my small town becoming just another run of the mill boring town that claims to be unique.

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