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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Restaurants thrive despite downturn

April 21, 2009

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In the darkness of the economic climate, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s bouncing off a pair of golden arches.

As the economy causes many to cut back on eating out, McDonald’s has seen growth — the fast-food chain’s sales were up 7.1 percent in January.

That sort of success isn’t lost on Marilyn Dobski, who with her husband, Tom, owns five Lawrence-area McDonald’s restaurants and employs 215.

“As a system, McDonald’s continues to do very well as consumers appreciate our continued value, service and convenience,” Dobski said. “We continue to be successful in today’s marketplace because we focus on the customer and give them what they want. ... Consumers come to McDonald’s today because of the wide variety of value on our menu. Being able to offer great food that is affordable and served fast, people see that as value.”

Though the success of McDonald’s is hard to beat, the overall restaurant business in Lawrence isn’t doing too badly, local owners and managers said. That is not to say that the current economic climate hasn’t stung, but it’s not as bad in Lawrence as elsewhere, said Fee Monshizadeh, co-owner of Marisco’s, 4821 W. Sixth St., and J.B. Stout’s, 721 Wakarusa Drive.

“Definitely, the economy has affected everyone, including the restaurants,” Monshizadeh said. “We might not be affected as much as the East Coast (or) West Coast, because they have big industry and it affects people more. ... It affects them harder and quicker than in the Midwest. But we’ve definitely already seen a wave of it, for sure.”

Friendly location

Following the McDonald’s example, other chain restaurants have also recently found a home in Lawrence. This includes McAlister’s Deli, which opened in November at 2108 W. 27th St. General manager Field Dellett said the national chain, which has restaurants in Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita, has struck a chord with local customers.

“We have very reasonable prices, we give large portions, we have an amazing kids menu. We have a huge following of families, and it’s just because our kids menu is really cheap. I mean, you can feed your kid for like $2,” he said. “People still have to eat, regardless of how bad they’re doing. It’s really not a whole lot cheaper to go to the grocery store anymore. I mean, a can of vegetables now is a $1 (or) $1.50.”

Also throwing its hat into the restaurant arena is Noodles & Co. The Boulder, Colo.-based restaurant plans to move into the space now used by Palace Cards & Gifts at 8 W. Eighth St. in June or July, said Noodles & Co. public relations manager Jaclyn Grossfield.

Noodles & Co. has three Kansas City-area locations and specializes in made-to-order, noodle-based dishes that hit several areas of the culinary map from America to Asia to the Mediterranean.

Monshizadeh said that college towns can make attractive locations despite the fact that many students are at school without gobs of disposable income. It’s more stable, he said, than having an entire industry that might get knocked out.

Locally owned and successful

Franchise eateries aren’t the only ones weathering the economic storm in town. Lawrence originals also have been going strong.

Jim Biemick opened up his restaurant, Biemer’s BBQ, 2120 W. Ninth St., back in August, taking over the building that was formerly occupied by Lawrence favorite Bucky’s Drive-In. Despite opening at the beginning of the financial meltdown, he was shocked by the number of people lining up for barbecue.

“I didn’t expect it to be this busy. The first month and a half, I couldn’t believe the reception we had. And I’m very thankful for it,” he said. “And what I’ve heard from everyone in the restaurant business, the first three to five weeks are your busiest weeks, and then it slows down. Ours slowed down, but it’s still doing double what we thought it would do.”

Hospitality counts

Monshizadeh added that he thought the hospitality of a restaurant experience is something that he believes will keep Lawrence’s restaurant industry chugging along.

“We are pretty optimistic and enthusiastic. It’s much better at least than what you read in the media,” Monshizadeh said. “Due to the fact that a lot of people cut back on their vacation, on their big expenses, buying a brand new car, so they still definitely have to have some fun, and go to a restaurant.”

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