Archive for Thursday, November 11, 2010

An eye for expansion: Bar and restaurant owners bring a little bit of Lawrence out of town

Rick Renfro, owner of Johnny's at 401 N. Second St. in North Lawrence. Since buying the bar in 1978, Renfro and his partners have expanded to eight locations.

Rick Renfro, owner of Johnny's at 401 N. Second St. in North Lawrence. Since buying the bar in 1978, Renfro and his partners have expanded to eight locations.

November 11, 2010


Robert Krause, left, and business partner Simon Bates own both The Burger Stand at The Casbah, 803 Mass. and its neighboring restaurant Esquina. They are preparing to open their second Burger Stand location in Topeka.

Robert Krause, left, and business partner Simon Bates own both The Burger Stand at The Casbah, 803 Mass. and its neighboring restaurant Esquina. They are preparing to open their second Burger Stand location in Topeka.

Quinton's, 615 Mass., is has also expanded its reach into Columbia, Mo., and three other locations with another one in the works.

Quinton's, 615 Mass., is has also expanded its reach into Columbia, Mo., and three other locations with another one in the works.

Any Lawrencian headed out of the Sprint Center after a game or concert is likely to meet a friendly face just steps outside the venue’s doors: John Wilson.

Don’t know John? Sure you do.

He’s the Johnny of Johnny’s Tavern, and just as he is at the two locations in Lawrence, Johnny is hanging over the heads of potential patrons in Kansas City’s Power & Light District with a knowing look, hat and a tie.

The Power & Light location is Johnny’s first outside of Kansas and its eighth store overall, making the taverns currently the largest restaurant chain to grow out of Lawrence.

But it’s not the only Lawrence landmark to have expanded outside the area. Henry T’s, Ingredient, Quinton’s, The Sandbar, El Mezcal and Papa Keno’s are some of Lawrence’s most successful expanders, bringing a bit of Lawrence to places as far-flung as Omaha or as close as Ottawa.

Yes, bits of Lawrence are starting to show up everywhere.

And in the year to come, there may just be more Lawrence favorites headed into other markets. Quinton's, which already has five locations, might be getting another location in Kansas City says owner and founder Steve Gaudreau. Gaudreau also has paperwork in place to possibly franchise out Dempsey’s Pub to a location in Wichita. Also in the burger world, the owners of The Burger Stand at The Casbah have signed a lease to put a Burger Stand near Washburn University in Topeka.

Expansion tales

So, how have these establishments been able to bring a bit of Lawrence to places that aren’t even in spitting distance? When it comes down to it, it’s all about the right formula.

Gaudreau says that soon after he opened in Lawrence in 1991, he realized he must have a good basic business plan because people were asking him about franchise opportunities. He now has franchises in Kansas, Missouri and Iowa.

“I tried to make Quinton’s a pretty dummy-proof idea,” Gaudreau says. “I don’t need to hire a chef, it’s all pretty easily replicated.

“It’s just a very loose structure, but it’s got a good foundation, so it works.”

Gaudreau has stuck to the franchise model for Quinton’s and only has ownership in the Lawrence store. But after successful franchising, he still wanted to do more, so he got with two old buddies and created a chain called Bison Witches with four stores in Arizona, Oklahoma and Nebraska. But, he says, he has no plans to expand that chain further. As for Quinton’s, he’d like it to keep expanding, but not at a break-neck pace. Though he doesn’t have ownership in the store’s franchises, he’d like them to be successful and to be close enough that visiting them is manageable. Case in point: He says he recently turned down a woman who wanted to open up a Quinton’s in San Jose, Calif.

“I would love for it to grow, but I’m going to grow slow. There’s a lot of places that take off fast and they sell them to anybody that comes up with the money and their structures are not very beneficial to the franchisee,” says Gaudreau, who has his franchises set up so that only stores making a certain amount of money have to pay him monthly franchise costs. “I want them to be successful, I’d rather get the money from five stores that are successful than 100 stores and have them go down the toilet five years later.”

Rapid expansion has been the name of the game for Ingredient, and the partners who own the Lawrence store couldn’t be happier. The “gourmet-fast casual restaurant” opened in 2007 with every intention of expanding says partner Nick Wysong, but he says even the owners didn’t expect things to go so fast. In three years, they’ve added six new locations in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska and are about to open one in Fort Collins, Colo.

“I think our intention and our goals were always set on that (expansion),” Wysong says. “Did we think we would be as far as we are now? I don’t know, but we’re there.”

Meanwhile, Johnny’s is right down the middle of the two models, having started off expansion slowly before doubling the number of stores in the past eight years, including two that opened last year. Since buying the bar with Doug Hassig in 1978, Renfro and Hassig have continually brought in partners to help them expand, to the point, Renfro says, that each store now basically has its own partner/general manager on site. He says the partners meet every couple of weeks to get on the same page, and the biggest struggle for the company is how to make each location a Johnny’s but a Johnny’s that fits the specific location.

“That’s the problem with the franchise/second location is getting it to be autonomous enough that it can stand on it’s own and do it’s own thing and be,” Renfro says. “A lot of the discussions that we have are about how we can be unique but also be general, too.”

Renfro says the partners have tried to do that by having slightly different menus based on area tastes and also the particular restaurant set up. For example, he says he often gets customers wondering why there aren’t certain salads on the menu at Johnny’s original location, 401 N. Second St., a kink caused by the lack of fridge space.

Quirks of the business

Other quirks also happen in expansion, some bigger than a missing salad or two. Getting things up and running in another town entirely can get dicey, even if it’s nearby. This is exactly the situation in which Robert Krause and The Burger Stand find themselves.

Krause says restaurant’s foray into the world of expansion isn’t totally rock solid, despite the Lawrence store’s success. He and his partners — wife Molly and friends Simon and Codi Bates — signed a lease agreement Nov. 1 for about 5,000 square feet of retail space in Topeka’s College Hill development. But Krause says that while he’d like to open the new location early in 2011, he’s not 100 percent sure it will happen.

“We are going to, and hopefully in that location, open our second Burger Stand,” Krause says. “We’re doing it. We want to do it. And we want to do it there. And economically, it’s a good deal for us, but until the financing is in place, things could still go wrong.”

Krause says he’d still like to open a Burger Stand in Topeka, regardless of if it ends up being in College Hill or not. After that, he says the restaurant will probably look south for it’s next opportunity — as a potential partner has been hinting at wanting to bring the restaurant to Tulsa, Okla.

As for the group’s other business, the popular taqueria Esquina, Krause says he’s not sure it’s something that could be done in another location. At issue? The fresh nature of the eatery’s signature dishes.

“The formula for Esquina requires more hands-on, specific people,” Krause says. “It’s healthy, it’s spicy, it’s fresh and I feel good about eating that food, but it’s a lot more difficult. The Burger Stand concept seems more likely. If you want to focus on expanding a concept, it would be that.


BigPrune 5 years ago

Why does every business that goes into "the Casbah" building have to use "the Casbah" in their name? It would be like calling "Springhill Suites by Marriott" "Springhill Suites by Marriott the Riverfront Mall." Just curious why the oddity in the name.

BigPrune 5 years ago

Let's see............Noodles & Company Palace Cards & Gifts; Free State Brewery The Lawrence Bus Station; Kinko's The Woolworth's; the list could go on and on. It's really quite bizarre.

oliveoyl 5 years ago

Actually the reason why it's called The Casbah is b/c that is what the building has been called since the 70's (I think) when several local businesses shared the space separated by short walls...casbah means market. I don't think there is anything wrong with keeping the name as it holds a lot of history for the building as well as a brand...everyone knows that building as The Casbah. Also, only two businesses have gone out of that building in the last 4 years, one of them being the organic market, the other was the boutique, which was originally called Sunflower International but changed to The Casbah Boutique in the late nineties as everyone called it The Casbah anyway...that business was around for around 30+ years so I'm not sure what jstthefacts is talking about when he says kiss of death.

ddayot 5 years ago

Henry T's expanded? Huh, I guess it doesn't take much.

Steve Jacob 5 years ago

Rent at the P&L has to be insane. And I know business at the P&L can't be great because they are way behind paying off bond money.

thebigspoon 5 years ago

This article has left out Yellow Sub! Known as Planet Sub at many locations in the KC area. Come on people think! How can you forget to mention Yellow Sub?

Jeff Cuttell 5 years ago

Planet Sub bought Yello Sub. Not the other way around. That's why they weren't mentioned, I suppose.

EarthaKitt 5 years ago

Maybe Planet Sub bought Yello Sub down the road, but the first franchise to operate under the Planet Sub name was sold by the former Yello Sub owner.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Yello Sub was indeed the original franchiser. I had several discussions with the then owner of the Yello Sub about his franchising operations.

As far as I know, there is only one Yello Sub left, and that's the one on 23rd St. There used to be one in Boulder (established by Rob Morrow, the original founder,) but that one is closed, as is the one at what is now the Oread Hotel (and the Glass Onion upstairs was also operated by the Yello Sub.)

Does anyone know if there are any Planet Sub locations outside the KC area?

crazyheart 5 years ago

I believe there is a Planet Sub in Emporia (if it's still open).

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

Looks to me that they have at least a couple of dozen stores in 5 states, mostly Kansas and Missouri. The Emporia store is still open.

And the information on the website confirms that Yello Sub in Lawrence (founded in 1979) is the original.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years ago

"established by Rob Morrow, the original founder"

Correction-- Jeff Morrow.

Michael Capra 5 years ago

krause u need to put up or shut up u are a big problem tree huger

Michael Capra 5 years ago

u rip off nexteverone in ur path and dont know who u r going to slam

Mark Kostner 5 years ago

Free State Brewery would be on my list of Lawrence favorites to franchise, after all Boulevard Brewery expanded to Lawrence. I never go to KC without visiting it for the food and drink. It would be a natural for Kansas City and maybe Wichita, or area casinos.

Tim Quest 5 years ago

Boulevard Brewery expanded to Lawrence? Oh really?

Might want to double-check that.

pizzapete 5 years ago

Good luck selling yuppie burgers in Topeka.

MyName 5 years ago

What, is there a new rule that only crappy fast-food burgers are allowed in Topeka? In case you hadn't noticed, the main reason why McDs and all of those other restaurants started offering new burgers was because their customers realized that the "yuppie burgers" were better and were getting them instead.

geekin_topekan 5 years ago

Topekans by and large are extremely resistant to change. Anything that is "new" or what they have not seen on TV is doomed.

RoeDapple 5 years ago

But how many of you knew the real Johnny Wilson?!! Johnny, the Golden Gloves boxer who served as his own bouncer, clearing out trouble makers as easy as sweeping the floor. The Johnny who had flashing strobe lights on each end of the bar to let him know when his near deaf ears were about to miss a phone call. And one of my favorite Johnnies traditions, opening at 6:00 AM on New Years Day for half price beer and mountains of peanuts until noon. I miss old Johnny.

RoeDapple 5 years ago

I remember that VW! Always made me smile knowing you were either up all night or skipped the previous night's celebration so you could open Johnnies!

thebigspoon 5 years ago

RoeDapple I sent you pm a while ago...

Jerry Cross 5 years ago

Yes, I am old enough to remember Johnny Wilson. My Dad used to take me in on occasion to enjoy the great burgers. the main ingredient I remember is the thick slice of a onion on top of the burger. Sorry, I cannot remember the kind of oinion. I know it had a reddish purple color.

raw 5 years ago

The tomatoes and onions were locally grown. They sure were good.

raw 5 years ago

I miss him too. He was a good man.

Steve Bunch 5 years ago

Don't forget Rudy's in Bellingham, WA.

ilovelucy 5 years ago

If you hit the north Lawrence Johnny's in July, you can partake in some of Bismarck Garden's yummilicious sweet corn, complete with butter, FREE. Rick buys some every day while it is in season.

Jayhawktriplegrad 5 years ago

Sheesh, LJW, was I the only one paying attention in 5th grade when we were taught the difference between "bring" and "take" and the difference between "its" and "it's"?

volunteer 5 years ago

I would be leery about that Topeka College Hill development, with crack haven just a few blocks east...(that's what folks say anyhow...I avoid that vicinity!)

Yeah, I like Rick Renfro also. Seemed pretty frank when he spoke (as I enjoyed sliders at his bar) about how tough it was in the early years, then KU's basketball success helped Johnny's tremendously.

Gotta like it when successful folks still seem down to Earth, whether bar owners, judges, or whatever line of work they are in.

Will someone please teach Esquina how to make a decent margarita?

timeforachange 5 years ago

Several months back the Topeka Capital Journal ran a story in which Krause said that he and several other Lawrence and Kansas City businesses were all about to open in the College Hill development. The idea was for several businesses to open all at once and to thrive off the synergy multiple new stores would generate in this otherwise dead retail development. At the time of this first TCJ story there was one sub shop which was open, but it has since closed leaving zero retail establishments. Krause now claims he has signed a 5,000 sg lease with no mention of these other establishments following suit. Makes me wonder if Krause is just blowing more 'krause air'. Sounds like he is already hedging his bets by saying "...until the financing is in place, things could still go wrong." Regardless, Topeka or even Tulsa, Ok as the story mentions would be good places for krause to end up.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.