Kristina Christmas is a regular at Downtown Catering & Carry-Out.
Christmas, a relay operator for Southwestern Bell, walks from her office upstairs in the building that houses the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, 734 Vt., to the tiny business at least once a week for lunch.
She's a big fan of their Asian-style grilled pork tenderloins, beef brisket and several kinds of quiche.
"It's nice to have a place like this, instead of greasy food all the time. Pretty much my whole office comes here. A lot of times, we call up, find out what the special is and put it up on a board at work," she says.
Christmas is one of many workers in the downtown area beating a path to two local businesses offering fresh, homemade - some might say gourmet - meals to the weekday lunch crowd.
There's Downtown Catering & Carry-Out, 805 Vt., which opened April 1, 2004. It's owned by Dorothy Malsbury, a Lawrence resident.
And on the east side of downtown, there's Sugarfoot Catering & Carry-Out, 518 E. Eighth St. It's co-owned by Nissa Peterson and Beth Kittle-Martinez, both of Lawrence.
Peterson and Kittle-Martinez have been working together as caterers for five years, adding their carry-out operation a year ago.
Downtown Catering is located in the small space that used to house Vermont Street BBQ, which has moved to 728 Mass.
Sugarfoot occupies the former home of Amazing Grains Bakery, which closed in 2004.
Both businesses offer hearty, well-crafted carry-out lunches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
They also offer an alternative - for those who work downtown - to picking up fast food, or having lunch at a full-service restaurant, which takes more time and requires a tip for the server.
"We have people who come here every day for our smoked chicken salad sandwich," Kittle-Martinez says.
"Our food is all homemade. It's more like the things our customers grew up eating."
Can't believe it's out of Styrofoam box
Customers of both businesses laud their carry-out lunches for freshness, consistent quality and affordability.
"The brisket and smoked chicken salad are kind of staples, but I like almost everything I've ever had here," says Brian Paulson, a welder for Harris Construction Co.
Paulson, who's working on the Hobbs Taylor Lofts at the northeast corner of Eighth and New Hampshire streets, often walks to Sugarfoot Catering & Carry-out to pick up lunch.
"There's no comparison to fast food; it's a home-cooked meal. I almost always get the special - it's lasagna one day, Mexican food the next ... I've recommended (Sugarfoot) to a lot of people."
Jane Blocher, executive director of the Douglas County Chapter of the American Red Cross, drives across town to buy lunch at Downtown Catering & Carry-out.
Her office is in the United Way building, 2518 Ridge Court.
Sometimes Blocher's picking up a meal just for herself; other times she's providing lunch for everyone at a committee meeting.
"People love the variety, the freshness of the products Dorothy uses and the affordability. You get so much. It's a great bang for the buck," she says.
Customers of Sugarfoot and Downtown Catering say their creative, diverse offerings tower above the typical carry-out lunch.
"You're sitting eating the Asian-style pork medallions with mango-pineapple salsa, and you can't believe it's out of a Styrofoam box," Blocher says.
Carry-out lunches at both businesses cost between $5 and $6.
Construction men, office workers
The two carry-out operations have found niches of their own.
Sugarfoot has a kind of working-guy spirit. It's common to see customers dressed in T-shirts soaked with sweat, blue jeans or camouflage pants covered in sheetrock dust and work boots.
A lot of east Lawrence construction workers and tradesmen, such as those up the street at Kennedy Glass, 730 N.J., frequent Sugarfoot, parking their pickups out front.
Downtown Catering & Carry-Out, meanwhile, has sewn up the lunch trade of many people who work in downtown offices and retail stores.
Regulars include those employed at City Hall, the Chamber of Commerce, the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment - plus a lot of downtown shoppers.
Location plays a big part in the minds of those who patronize the two carry-out businesses.
"I go there (Downtown Catering & Carry-Out) because I have work to do at my desk, and I can bring lunch back to my office," says Judy Billings, senior vice president for the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
Same thing for Steed Bell, who works at Spatial Data Research, 14 E. Eighth St.
"It's awesome," he says of Sugarfoot. "It's well-worth the walk."
His friend Steve Lane, a financial adviser who works in the US Bank building at Ninth and Massachusetts streets, agrees.
"It's convenient, it's good food, and it's a locally owned business. I like (Sugarfoot) because it's the kind of food I'd make at home, if I could."