News and notes from around town:
• An 8-year-old this weekend asked me this question completely out of the blue: For people who use chopsticks all the time, do they think forks are hard to use? Well, I don’t know, but it looks like you’ll have another place to hone your chopstick skills (or fork skills.) We previously reported that the Peking Taste has moved out of its location at 2210 Iowa St., and is planning to reopen in the Louisiana Purchase shopping center near 23rd and Louisiana. Now, I’ve learned that the landlords for the former Peking Taste building are planning to open their own Chinese restaurant. Will Soo tells me that he is working to convert the building into “Chong’s Chowhouse,” or at least that is the working title for the restaurant. Regardless of its name, Soo plans to have a lunch buffet and then offer an extensive menu for dinner. Soo said he hopes to offer dishes that go beyond the ordinary Chinese fare. In addition to the favorites like General Tso’s Chicken and Beef & Broccoli, expect the buffet to offer “comfort food” from east and southeast Asia. Soo’s family is from the Shandong region of China, so that, of course, means homemade dumplings and stuffed buns. (You knew that’s what the Shandong region is famous for, right?) Plus, Soo said he plans to take some American comfort food and give it an eastern spin. Soo grew up in the restaurant business. His parents operated The Peking Restaurant in the location from 1986 to 1996 before they began leasing the building to the Peking Taste. Soo then went to culinary school and previously has cooked locally at The Thai House, The Eldridge and Pachamama’s. Soo expects the restaurant to open by late November or mid-December at the latest.
• Lawrence builders could have used chopsticks and still kept up with the demand for new houses in July, according to a new report from City Hall. Builders took out permits for just three single-family homes, and took out no permits for duplexes or apartments. Through July, builders have started 58 single-family homes. That is down from 80 through the same time period a year ago. At this pace, there is a real chance builders may fail to start even 100 new single-family homes for the year. The city’s building permit records go back to 1956, and during that time period there has never been a year where builders have started fewer than 100 new homes. So, it is definitely not a stretch to say that it is a historically bad time for the city’s home-building industry, which traditionally has been one of the top two or three job-producing industries in the city.
Of course there are other construction jobs besides new single-family home construction, but the City Hall report suggests work has been slow in those areas too. The total value of building permits issued through July — everything from commercial construction to hot water heater installations — checks in at $52.84 million. That’s down from $59.67 million during the same time period a year ago. At the current pace, the city will issue $90.58 million worth of building permits in 2011. That would still be better than the $75.37 million issued in 2009, but it would be only the second time since 1996 that builders hadn’t started at least $100 million in projects for the year.
We’ll see if home sale numbers for July have given builders any hope for a turnaround. The local home sale report should be released in the next few days.
• I’ve pointed out several times when gasoline prices in Lawrence have been higher than many other area communities. So, I should point out what I found this weekend. As I was driving to and from beautiful Melvern Lake this weekend, I went through Ottawa and saw that gasoline prices there were about 10 cents higher than they were in Lawrence. For whatever reason, gas prices in Lawrence seemed to be significantly below the statewide average of about $3.55 this weekend. But, of course, that was over the weekend. Unless you have a time machine parked in your garage that may not do you any good. (And would a time machine run on unleaded?) Even if it does, I wouldn’t stop at last weekend. Does anyone remember what the average price of gas was in Lawrence just one year ago. According to the AAA report, it was $2.51 per gallon.