Restaurants remain in state of flux on west side of city

Susan Chi misses Ruchi, the defunct Indian restaurant that was at 15th Street and Kasold Drive.

And while she hasn’t been a fan of some of the other restaurants that have come and gone in west Lawrence through the years, Chi feels her area of town draws the short straw when it comes to eating out.

“We generally never eat at fast food restaurants,” she said, “which leaves us almost nowhere to eat out here.”

The restaurant business in west Lawrence has been in somewhat of a state of flux the past year. West Side Deli, which had been at 4931 W. Sixth St., moved downtown in October and became New Hampshire Street Bistro.

Also, Hereford House, also in the shopping mall at 4931 W. Sixth St., closed in July.

Some business owners say the west-side restaurant growth had outpaced other development in the area.

Michael Levy, who owns New Hampshire Street Bistro, said business is better downtown than it was out west.

“The development out west never happened,” he said. “It never came to fruition like it was supposed to.”

So when his lease was up at his former space, he looked for other options.

“We thought there was going to be a lot more out there,” Levy said. “It was projected to be a very busy intersection by this time. Nothing happened across the street.”

He’s referring to several development plans for the intersection of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. The city and Wal-Mart are locked in a legal dispute over whether the retailer can build a store at the intersection. Other plans for the area call for a multi-use development that would mix residential, commercial and office space.

Rod Anderson, president of Anderson Restaurant Group, which owns the Hereford House, declined to comment for this article. However, he told the Journal-World in July that lack of west-side development contributed to the restaurant’s closing.

“We went from being two years early to seven years early,” Anderson said of the development delays.

Not all restaurants in west Lawrence have struggled. J.B. Stout’s Bar & Grill, which opened in 1997, and the Salty Iguana, open since 2001, also are at 4931 W. Sixth St. Across from the shopping center is Marisco’s, which also opened in 2001.

Food needs

Meanwhile, some west Lawrence residents say they have to drive elsewhere to fill their food needs.

For Shannon O’Lear, that means driving away from her neighborhood for a good breakfast. She notes that Hy-Vee, 4000 W. Sixth St., is packed for its morning breakfast buffet, and West Side Deli’s departure left a void.

“I would like to think that with them gone, and the demand on this end of town, that some entrepreneurial soul will have pity on us and open a decent all-around good breakfast place nearby,” she said.

Alan Cowles, president of the West Lawrence Neighborhood Association, said he thought most people in his area of town didn’t mind driving downtown for food, which makes it more difficult for west Lawrence restaurants to thrive.

“They are definitely willing to drive,” Cowles said. “I’ve seen comments to the effect we’re happy to go downtown if there’s something that attracts us.”

Neighborhood convenience

Count Brad Ziegler among those who are hoping for more development out west to help the restaurant industry.

Ziegler has ownership interests in several restaurants in town and is co-owner of Zig & Mac’s, 1540 Wakarusa Drive, which opened in October in the former location of Tanner’s.

“I don’t think there are too many restaurants on the west side of town,” Ziegler said. “It would always be nice to have less competition, but without it, sometimes your quality and service will suffer.

“I think what we need are more people bringing their business to the west side of town – not the restaurant business, but the vacant office space. We need some industry on this side of town – numbers of people to fill the restaurants for lunch.”

Ziegler said west Lawrence restaurants do have at least one advantage – more convenient parking.

“I think there’s a good mix of restaurants downtown, and the specialty restaurants will cater to that,” he said. “For convenience, for just a quick meal with your family, it’s simpler to come to a restaurant nearby, on the west side.”

That might be the case. But downtown’s draw seems to have trumped that advantage for Levy, whose West Side Deli has done well at its New Hampshire Street Bistro location.

“When you’re out west, parking is better and there are plenty of people who live out there with that kind of money,” he said. “I think a lot of western Lawrence is a bedroom community. That’s part of (the problem).

“For a lot of businesses to thrive at that intersection (Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive), there needs to be more happening out there. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon.”