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News and notes from around town:
• I had heard that a few people were interested in the future of Peking Taste, the longtime Chinese restaurant near 23rd and Iowa that featured a buffet so large and so inexpensive that … you fill in the blank below. (Why do I always have to come up with this stuff?) Indeed the restaurant has closed, but speculation that it will reopen in a new location also is correct. Through ancient Chinese methods, I have learned that the restaurant will move into the former Scarlet Orchid location in the Louisiana Purchase shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. (OK, perhaps how I found out is I let the phone ring a really long time at the Peking Taste location, and an answering machine finally picked up and provided news of its pending move.) According to the message, the restaurant is expected to reopen in September. There had been some speculation by the bloggers below that any new location would be carry-out and delivery only. I’ve put a call into the man listed as the owner of Peking Taste to inquire about that and other issues, but I haven’t heard back. The Scarlet Orchid space is pretty decent size, so I would be surprised if it didn’t include a buffet. But what do I know? Trust me, Chinese buffets have surprised me before.
• In other restaurant news, the Mirth Cafe at 745 N.H. has new owners. Former Mirth general manager Ron Zahorik and two partners — Lena Howlett and Alan Brownlow — have bought the restaurant/coffee shop from the former ownership group led by Rob Wilson. Zahorik said he’s not planning any major changes to the restaurant currently. He said a renovation is underway in the east dining room to add some new booths and improve the look of the area. But as far as the menu goes, it will remain largely unchanged, with a heavy emphasis on breakfast and specials that take advantage of locally grown produce. In the future, Zahorik said the restaurant may develop a new dinner menu. Currently the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. but stops serving food at 8 p.m.
Zahorik has been in the restaurant business for about 15 years, but this is the first establishment that he has owned.
“I’ve been doing this work most of my life, so when this opportunity came along I felt I had to take it,” Zahorik said.
• While you are out and about today in Lawrence, you may very well see a first of its kind in Kansas. The city’s public transit system today is beginning to use three new hybrid electric diesel buses. The roll-out marks the first time hybrid buses have been used by a public transit system in the state of Kansas. The 40-foot buses will both look and sound different. The hybrid technology is similar to that on hybrid passenger cars. During low speeds on flat ground, the buses normally will operate only off battery power. That will mean riders and passersby won’t hear the rumble of a diesel engine, but rather a hum more similar to a supercharged golf cart.
The diesel engine — which will be a lower emission model than older diesels — will kick in on hills, higher speeds, or when the batteries are running low. The bus will look a bit different because the batteries are stored in a compartment on the bus’ roof. The batteries are charged by the diesel engine and also from energy built up by braking.
The buses cost about $600,000 apiece — or about $250,000 more than a standard bus. But the city was able to make the numbers work because it had received $1.8 million in federal stimulus funds that could be used to cover the purchase. The city ordered the buses in late 2009, and city officials said at that time they expected the buses would have lower operating costs than standard diesel buses. Look for the buses to mainly be used on Route 11, which is the large route that serves downtown, the KU campus and the 31st and Iowa street area. The buses replace three models that have been in service since 2001.
• Motorists also should be on the lookout near the Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive area today. There will be a change in the traffic pattern near that intersection. The eastbound traffic on Clinton Parkway will be limited to one lane, beginning today. The lane reduction is to give construction crews more room to work on rebuilding the intersection. I'm checking on how long the lane reduction is expected to last, but I believe the intersection work will take about two weeks. As motorists are well aware, the entire stretch of Kasold from Clinton Parkway to about 31st Street is being rebuilt. That project is slated for completion in the late fall.
• As we reported yesterday, Hank Booth has been named as the interim leader of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. He'll guide the transition as Tom Kern leaves the CEO and president's role to take a similar job in Steamboat Springs, Colo. What usually comes after one of these announcements is that a national search for a new leader has started. But that's not the case here. Cindy Yulich, chair of the chamber's board of directors, told me the group wants to have a conversation about whether a national search is the best way to go to fill this position. She said there has been some sentiment that it might be better to focus the search on people who have some ties to Lawrence. That stems from concern that the turnover rate of the chamber's top position has been fairly high in the last decade. Somebody with some Lawrence ties might provide the chamber with the stability in leadership it has been seeking.
It will be interesting to see how much emphasis the board places on the new leader having chamber experience. If the board looks for a leader in general rather than a chamber leader that would seem to open up the field to quite a few local folks. This is complete speculation here, but would the position be attractive to local bank presidents who may be looking to get out of that industry, or KU leaders who could better tap the community into the growing research industry in town, or former elected leaders who understand how the political process works in the community? Again, all just speculation, but I believe the chamber board will start having discussions next week about what type of candidates it wants to attract. Booth already has said he won't be a candidate for the position. Yulich had no timeline for when the position might be filled.