End of an era for deli

Mass. Street restaurant closes after 34 years

February 27, 2007


Mass. Street Deli closed after 34 years in business

'The Owner's Special,' All-American Salad, and deli cheesecake are all things of the past in downtown Lawrence now that Mass. Street Deli has closed its doors. Enlarge video

Bob Schumm, owner of the Mass. Street Deli, 941 Mass., loads up equipment to be hauled out of the restaurant. Schumm closed the deli Monday and is selling the building to an undisclosed buyer with plans for a different restaurant. Schumm opened the deli 34 years ago in downtown Lawrence.

Bob Schumm, owner of the Mass. Street Deli, 941 Mass., loads up equipment to be hauled out of the restaurant. Schumm closed the deli Monday and is selling the building to an undisclosed buyer with plans for a different restaurant. Schumm opened the deli 34 years ago in downtown Lawrence.

Pier 1 Imports to close store by April 15

Pier 1 Imports is closing its Lawrence store on South Iowa Street.

The company store, at 3211 Iowa, is set to close by April 15. The end could come sooner, a manager said, if all of the shop's merchandise is sold out earlier.

Phone messages left Monday with officials at Pier 1's corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, were not returned Monday.

Pier 1 came to Lawrence in 1976, operating in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street until moving in November 1999 to the larger, newer building in the shopping area anchored by Super Target.

Bob Schumm watched casual-dining competition heat up and consumer spending cool down.

Now he's pulling the plug on Mass. Street Deli, the restaurant he opened 34 years ago at 941 Mass. and expanded twice, including a stretch onto and above the sidewalk.

The deli closed Monday.

"The only thing I was disappointed in was we never won a national championship when we had the balcony up there," said Schumm, whose restaurant expansion added a small outdoor seating area upstairs. "I was hoping to sit on my balcony and root for my Jayhawks when they drove by."

While Kansas University men's basketball team remains alive and well in the chase for an NCAA title this year, Schumm conceded that the competition he faced for discretionary spending in Lawrence simply had become too tough.

When a buyer surfaced for his building, Schumm agreed to sell. The transaction - to an undisclosed buyer with plans for a different restaurant - is scheduled to close Wednesday.

The deli's closing puts about 30 people out of work, although some are being offered the opportunity to transfer to Schumm's other downtown restaurant, Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse.

Buffalo Bob's will remain open at 719 Mass., Schumm said, and he's busy considering options for bolstering that business, which he launched in 1977 and includes a catering operation.

Among the options: expanding into a vacant, two-story building next door that Schumm renovated in 2004 but has been unable to lease.

"That might be a possibility," Schumm said.

The deli's closing comes after Qdoba Mexican Grill closed its nearby storefront last month at 10th and Massachusetts streets. The former West Side Deli also recently moved to downtown Lawrence, expanding both space and offerings as it relocated and renamed itself to reflect its New Hampshire Street address.

From burritos to pitas to burgers and other casual fare, Schumm said, downtown dining is as competitive as ever and Lawrence residents are spending less than expected when it comes to eating out.

"The market is very, very crowded," Schumm said. "There are a number of restaurants that have opened, and the sales tax revenue is down. It's a very, very difficult market."

Schumm's 1994 expansion and remodeling project added a second floor to the deli and included construction of the upstairs balcony and a first-floor cafe, which allowed the deli's front doors to open out onto the sidewalk. It was at the urging of Schumm, a former Lawrence mayor, that Lawrence city commissioners agreed to grant permits to restaurants wanting to provide sidewalk dining.

Schumm long has considered Massachusetts Street to be the premier community thoroughfare, and he's still looking forward to a reprise of the national-championship parade that he rode in as mayor in 1988.

"Now I'll just have to use the balcony that's down by my office," he said.


geekin_topekan 11 years, 2 months ago

Qdoba was destined for failure from the start.Taco John's quality food at a bistro price.What a joke. Mass street deli's roof top was a splended place for sleeping and stashing one's gear back in the day.A tightrope walk across a skylighted diningroom and tahdah!Your homefree! I bought a chefsalad there in "84.Thats my groundlevel experience with MassStdeli.

lunacydetector 11 years, 2 months ago

what is killing restaurant business downtown, really?

it is the smoking ban, bob (after all, it was for our own good)

lunacydetector 11 years, 2 months ago

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SoupBone 11 years, 2 months ago

I'm curious to know more about his statement that tax revenue is down. How much? Over how long? Is that in Downtown Lawrence, the entire city, Douglas County...or something else completely? Can that be broken down by types of sales--say, by SIC/NAICS code? Can anybody help me out here?

lunacydetector 11 years, 2 months ago

in such a liberal town as lawrence, supposedly open minded, i cannot believe my post got removed. that is the second one ever received in almost 2,000 posts.

getserious 11 years, 2 months ago

Maybe the problem, just like Buffalo Bob's, is that the food SUCKS. Never had a good meal at either place. People that think Bob's is good bar be cue are crazy. Awful, Awful, Awful. Add to that an aloof owner who thinks he knows it all and voila', out of business.

RonBurgandy 11 years, 2 months ago

you're right, lunacy, the only reason I ate at a restaurant downtown was because I could smoke there.

gbaker 11 years, 2 months ago

I hate the Chokehouse, oh I mean the Smokehouse.

rockchalk77 11 years, 2 months ago

My friend worked there until very recently - she was thinking about quitting and then heard a rumor that they were going to close, so she put in her resignation. Fortunately this has given her a few days head start looking for another job.

FireMarshall_Bill 11 years, 2 months ago

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Stopbreakindown 11 years, 2 months ago

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KSChick1 11 years, 2 months ago

I wish he had announced this last week, he could have had one more big weekend with all the people going in before they closed. My daughter and I would have gone, I like the bleu cheese burger and she liked their salads. Oh well. Their reuben was sub-standard, found a better one at JB Stouts anyway.

dacs23 11 years, 2 months ago

I want to see a Russian restaurant come to downtown.

What do Russians eat anyway?

lounger 11 years, 2 months ago

its been a long time since we ate there and the reason? the food!! alot better choices in lawrence out there. I just hope a local will replace it and not another corporate store.

oldgoof 11 years, 2 months ago

Despite all the carping going on here about this restaurant, it lasted far longer than the average. Does anyone remember the Bull and Boar on 9th?

oldgoof 11 years, 2 months ago

Soupbone: Yes the KS Dept of Rev. keeps track of NIC/NAIC as they collect sales tax. They need to for no other reason but to help estimate future collections.

oldgoof 11 years, 2 months ago

And regarding Schumm, he is a straight-up guy. You may not agree with what he says, but he will say to you it in a thoughtful manner, and with a good degree of humor and self-deprecation. He helped several students I know with special circumstances.

oldgoof 11 years, 2 months ago

dac23: there was a russian-styled deli at Hillcrest years ago. It never did terribly well, but was fun to visit.

Keith 11 years, 2 months ago

The Bull and Boar was my favorite of all his old eateries. The New Yorker was another one, good for its time. There was something about the old Mass St. Deli that was missing entirely from its later incarnation, but I can't really describe it, other than to say it was more of a simple grass roots deli.

Emily Hadley 11 years, 2 months ago

Wow. The imagery from that outhouse story actually does less for my appetite than this place did.

So much for lunch.

Mama 11 years, 2 months ago

The food may have been sub-par but I have to agree with oldgoof....34 years in business is nothing to sneeze at. Few businesses can make that claim. He must have been doing something right. Maybe just not lately.

And honestly, Buffalo Bob's IS crap. Sorry Mr. Schumm, but ICKY. For my money, Vermont St. BBQ is by far the best BBQ in town. yummy.

countrygirl 11 years, 2 months ago

Bigg's BBQ is pretty tasty too. Sure beats Buffalo Bob's!

Raider 11 years, 2 months ago

Mama, you're right; Buffalo Bob's is crap. However, I must disagree with you about Vermont St. They are pretty bad as well. The meat is dry, and the sauce tastes like ketchup with a little bit of spice added to it. Haven't found a decent BBQ joint in Lawrence yet. Bigg's is ok, but still not the greatest.

kmat 11 years, 2 months ago

Andini is correct! Try Grandaddy's in N. Lawrence. It's better than anything else in Lawrence and the prices are very reasonable.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 11 years, 2 months ago

I haven't checked out Grandaddy's, but Vermont St. BBQ is as good as KC BBQ. And I love KC BBQ.

Jaminrawk 11 years, 2 months ago

I went to Mass Street Deli with my mom as a kid and hated it so much I never went back. I was amazed that it kept going. Buffalo Bob's is absolutely the worst BBQ on Earth! Fries piled high the sky? It's easy to give away fries like that when they probably just reuse the same pile all day. THEY"RE NASTY!!!! I had brisket there once and it was white because of the massive amount of fat in the meat. I hated the ads, "How about a Pig's Eye Ale ... RIGHT NOW!?" How about no, Bob?

Vermont Street is good BBQ for Lawrence. Nothing can be Kansas City, but I don't think that is what they're trying to do at Vermont Street. It's different and I like it.

Jaminrawk 11 years, 2 months ago

How about they have a REAL deli move in. You know, something more along the lines of The Cheese Shop? Anyone who's ever been to New York knows that Mass St. Deli wasn't a real deli.

kujeeper 11 years, 2 months ago

Bob has a great history of blaming others for his problems, this one was self inflicted, THE FOOD WAS HORRIBLE, THE SERVICE WAS MARGINAL, AND NO ONE WANTS TO SUPPORT HIM, HE'S A EGO FILLED ARROGANT MAN

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 2 months ago

"He helped several students I know with special circumstances."

I remember a day many years ago. He was a city commissioner. A college student voiced some unflattering things about him to an LJW reporter. I was standing right next to her when Bob Schumm got her on the phone and told her he'd SUE HER if she spoke to the press about him again. She was just a college girl exercising her constitutional rights. She was visibly shaken by his threat.

What I just wrote is a fact. It happened right in front of me.

"How long before Weavers go bye bye?"

I hope that never happens, but I've wondered the same thing.

BorderRat 11 years, 2 months ago

Last summer when I was back visiting in Lawrence, I took the family out for lunch at the Mass Street Deli. Bad choice on my part. Bad food, worse service, and far too expensive for what we got.

MyName 11 years, 2 months ago

Vermont Street is good BBQ for Lawrence. Nothing can be Kansas City, but I don't think that is what they're trying to do at Vermont Street. It's different and I like it.

I completely agree. Vermont St. can't hold a candle to Gate's BBQ, but it's still pretty tasty. I've never been to Buffalo Bob's and I'm not going to as long as Vermont Street is on the other side of Mass. Just like I stopped going to the Deli when I figured out that I can make a better sandwich at home! Granted that only took me one trip to the Deli, but still!

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 2 months ago

NO, NO, NO, NO, children. Grandaddy's is good, but Vt. Street is the best. My only thing about Vt. St. is their BEANS suck.

townie111 11 years, 2 months ago

i worked at mass st. deli for 4 years. yes, sometimes the service was bad, the orders were slow, the food was cold or burnt or old, but after everything we usually had some good times and a lot of customers did, too. the happy ones just don't often speak up. i'm not saying it was my proudest job, but it got me thru college with out having a lot of responsibility.

and it started out as a real deli way back in the day. i think a revival of that would be great.


townie111 11 years, 2 months ago

oh, yeah, and the smokehouse is gross, but the fritters were really good when they brought them down to us fresh from the fryer.

overthemoon 11 years, 2 months ago

mass street deli was good for having a really long chat with someone. half hour til the waitress showed up. another til the water came, 45 minutes to an hour till the food came. Then it was time to move on becuase the food was so incredibly nondescript and we'd covered about every topic we cared to talk about. not a bad place to sit, though.

i am irked when business owners blame everything on outside sources for their bad times. training employees, adapting menus to the times, or having something so incredibly good that you can never change it, and just providing great value in a good atmosphere are what keeps a restaurant going. Look at Free State, Wheatfields, Tellers (sort of) You can't just hire a college student and hand them a order pad and expect them to have a clue as to how to make customers happy.

Oh for the old (70's) Cornucopia and Paradise cafe. When they had it going, they had it right and became an entire community unto themselves!!

farmgal 11 years, 2 months ago

Eating at Mass. St. Deli was so hit and miss. Sometimes the food was really good, and sometimes it was not. Always figured it depended on the cook that visit. In the last few years, the service was awful--slow, slow, slow & clueless. The food at Milton's (especially their soups) is much much better.

krisknow 11 years, 2 months ago

I'm sorry to hear about the deli. It was the first place my wife and I ate when we were visiting Lawrence to look for a house in 1998. I think it took us an hour to get our food, and I remember thinking the burger actually had a taste of manure. But I always liked the inside of the place, and we ate there a couple more times back then, including once when we ordered a half hot dog off the kids' menu for our son -- thinking it would be half of a big hot dog -- but no, it was just half of a standard, small dog. Pitiful. I remember thinking that place gave me several of my worst eating-out experiences.

Stay with me...

We started going again in the last few months after seeing those (annoying) ads -- "How about a Fat Tire Ale, RIGHT NOW" -- with that goofy, stiff delivery. But you know, the Fat Tires were good and cheap, and the burgers (always $4) were a great value and pretty good food (Blackened Spicy Burger was quite good, and I've come to appreciate a burger that's 1/3 pound rather than the 1/2-pound gut-bombs at all the chains). Their hot German potato salad was also great.

I agree with previous poster -- we would have gone again if they had given warning, even though we were there last week.

Regarding Buffalo Bob's -- I think the outdated-feeling atmosphere is worse than the BBQ itself. True, it's not Great BBQ, but it's serviceable (except for the fries). My Lawrence BBQ Faves are 1. Granddaddy's; 2. Vermont (smoked chicken and Wing Night!!!); 3. Quick's (RIP) 4. Bigg's (too pricey); 5. Buffalo Bob's; and finally 6. Pat's (RIP) (a distant 6th)

Best in KC: 1. BB's; 2. Okla.Joe's; 3. Smokin Joe's

FireMarshall_Bill 11 years, 2 months ago

Sounds like we just need for Quantrill to come back so we can just start over downtown again. Then everyone will be happy. This time Boog can declare a dadaism day or whatever it is and the city commission will buy marshmallows.

I'd still like to hear Bob Schumm's explanation for not telling his employees until the last day that the deli was closing. There's no excuse for that. I think that speaks volumes about his character.

bearded_gnome 11 years, 2 months ago

agree w/Cool above, should'a closed boofalo boob's worst of the two by far! weekday lunches Mrs. Gnome and I have enjoyed decent sandwich lunches and good service recently.

favorite restaurant from the past: absolutely hands down Tin Pan Alley! wish that place still was there! great menu/service/atmosphere. loved it.

Tom McCune 11 years, 2 months ago

In the 70s, MSD had the best cheesecake in the state. No kidding. It even got published in some fancy magazine. I think they made it onsite from their own recipe and, as I recall, they would give you a copy of the recipe if you asked. But that was long ago...

Tom McCune 11 years, 2 months ago

Oh, what I would give to be able to sit just one more time at the counter of Squeezer's Palace.

quietgirl 11 years, 2 months ago

Cornocopia, Tin Pan Alley, Paradise...ahhhh what memories!! Those were the days Lawrence was a great small town with a lot of character.

Jaminrawk 11 years, 2 months ago

I think everytime someone goes to a restaurant that they "settle on" with food they know is crappy, they should call it "Schumming".

farmgal 11 years, 2 months ago

I agree with all that Buffalo Bob's is awful. Way too greasy. But I know people who drive in from out of town to eat there. Go figure! My favorite BBQ is Jack Stack's in K.C. They have the best BBQ beans in the world. & I love the way they let you substitute the beans for the fries, no extra charge. Always appreciate a restaurant that does that.

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