Archive for Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Town Talk: Food Network contestant opening cupcake shop in downtown; city survey shows hits and misses for downtown; new commissioners voicing concerns on homeless issue

May 18, 2011


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News and notes from around town:

• Maybe you have seen The Food Network show "Cupcake Wars." If you haven’t, you soon may be able to get a taste of it in Downtown Lawrence. I’ve learned that one of the contestants on that show is set to open a cupcake shop in downtown. Topeka-based Billy Vanilly Cupcakes — formerly known as Daddy Cakes — has signed a lease to open at 914 Mass. in the former Campus Cloth store. The store is owned by Allyson Fiander, a pastry chef who has studied in France and at the San Francisco Baking Institute. She’s also worked at Stars Restaurant in San Francisco, Club Med in Florida and The American Restaurant in Kansas City. But her claim to fame probably is her appearance on The Food Network’s Cupcake Wars series. (She was on the show that featured Sea World, in case you are a fan.) She also is getting some love from another Food Network Star. The magazine Every Day with Rachael Ray recognized her Topeka store as one of the top 5 cupcake destinations in the country.

Fiander told me she hopes to have the store open by Aug. 1. The current store in Topeka does a lot of catering, and she said that will be available in Lawrence too. But the store’s entry into Lawrence also is about tapping into the college market. That has been a hot demographic for cupcake shops in other cities, and Billy Vanilly will go after it hard in Lawrence. Fiander said the store plans to be open from 10 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and until 1 a.m. on Saturdays. I jokingly asked her whether she had any cupcakes that went well with beer, and she said it was definitely a well-researched subject.

And she wasn’t joking. The store won’t have a liquor license, but it has several drink inspired cupcakes. Currently, Fiander has a Jack and Coke cupcake, a margarita cupcake, a Cosmopolitan cupcake, and creations called “Buttercream Shots.” It is the store’s buttercream icing served up like a shot of tequila. I’m not sure which one would be more dangerous.

Allison Vance Moore of the Lawrence office of Colliers International, was a broker on the deal.

Her shop will mark the second cupcake-based business to open downtown in the last few months. As we previously reported, the Cupcake Construction Company has opened at 727 Mass. in the former home of the Pink Box Bakery.

If cupcakes are the sign of an economic recovery, hang on — and grab a napkin.

Last week, downtown merchants got together to talk about whether store hours in downtown ought to be longer. This week City Hall leaders want anybody and everybody to get together and talk about all things related to downtown. City Commissioners Hugh Carter and Bob Schumm are hosting a downtown listening session at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall. The group is open not only to merchants, but also downtown property owners, office tenants, residents and just the public in general. Schumm originally proposed the meeting as a way to discuss what the city could do to help lower the downtown vacancy rate. But if the recently released city survey is any indication, there are several other downtown topics that may be on the mind of residents. Here’s a look at what the survey had to say about downtown:

  1. Availability of parking downtown: No surprise here, this category received the lowest ranking among all downtown questions. A total of 42 percent of respondents were satisfied with the availability of parking. That’s down 43 percent who were satisfied in 2007, when the survey was last taken. It will be interesting to see whether these survey results embolden commissioners to add another level of parking to the garage that will be built as part of the library expansion. It seems the public is mixed on that idea, which would require the city to come up with money over and above the $18 million approved by voters.
  2. Downtown after dark: People feel a little safer in downtown during the nighttime hours, but it looks like there is still a lot of work to do in that category. A total of 48 percent said they were satisfied with downtown safety after dark. That’s up from 45 percent in 2007. Interestingly, the perception of downtown safety during the day fell slightly during the time period. It now stands 87 percent, down from 90 percent in 2007. But remember, the margin of error for this survey is plus or minus 2.7 percent, so those changes may not mean much statistically.
  3. Retail vs. entertainment: The public is growing less satisfied with the mix of retail stores vs. bars and other entertainment businesses downtown. Only 53 percent were satisfied this year. That’s down from 60 percent in 2007. That 7 point drop was the second largest drop in satisfaction of any city issue asked on this year’s survey, which numbers seven pages and more than 100 questions.
  4. Hours downtown businesses are open: Not to be outdone, residents were even more dissatisfied with the hours that downtown businesses are open. That category had the largest single drop in satisfaction of any question — not just downtown questions — asked on the survey. A total of 57 percent said they are satisfied with the hours of downtown businesses. That’s down from 65 percent in 2007.
  5. Ease of getting to downtown. Not surprisingly, people feel like it is about as easy as ever to get to downtown. A total of 69 percent said they were satisfied with the ease of getting to downtown. That’s essentially unchanged from the 70 percent in 2007.
  6. Beautification of downtown: Improving the appearance of downtown is one of the community’s great success stories of the last several years, according to the survey. During the time period, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has undertaken a more aggressive flower planting program, and also has hired workers from Cottonwood Inc. to help with litter control and other issues. According to the survey, 83 percent of people are now satisfied with the “beautification” of downtown. That’s up from 68 percent in 2007. That 15 point increase was the largest increase for any single category in the entire survey.

• City commissioners at Tuesday afternoon’s study session began what probably will be an important discussion about the city’s role in fighting homelessness. First, commissioners said they wanted an update on how the search for a new shelter location was proceeding. But Commissioner Hugh Carter said commissioners need to start spending some time thinking about what happens after the shelter presumably moves out of downtown. Carter said he’s convinced there will be quite a few homeless who won’t make the move out of downtown, and won’t be served by a new shelter, no matter where it is. Carter is pointing out that the new shelter theoretically is going to operate quite a bit differently than the current shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets. A big difference will be that there will be no daytime drop-in center at the new shelter. If you are not part of a jobs program and meeting certain other requirements, you won’t be allowed to be inside the building. Carter noted with LINK remaining downtown — and probably The Salvation Army feeding program as well — it is likely a large number of the more chronically homeless will remain downtown.

“The problems downtown won’t change,” Carter said. “They are chronically homeless, or mentally ill or have an addiction problem. I don’t think a lot of those people are going to be in a jobs program at the new shelter. I think we need to talk to people about what is the game plan.”

Carter suggested posing that question to the leaders of the Community Shelter. City Commissioner Bob Schumm said that would be fine, but ultimately he said the city and the county need to get together and come up with a game plan.

“It is not going to go away, and it is not getting any smaller,” Schumm said. “We own the problem. We really do.”

Carter and Schumm are the two newest faces on the commission. It will be interesting to see if the other three commissioners — who already have spent a lot of time talking about the homeless issue during their tenure — are interested in expanding the issue.


UNIKU 7 years ago

More cupcakes? We need more mexican restaurants.....

gsxr600 7 years ago

I'm sure my plumbing would love that

Cimmy Redmond 7 years ago

I went to Cupcake Construction Company over the weekend and while their cupcakes are delicious, they really need to streamline their processes and train their employees better. And I don't think there's really a market for two cupcake bakeries on Mass.

Cimmy Redmond 7 years ago

I had cupcakes from Daddy Cakes at my baby shower and look forward to trying them again.

MKrics 7 years ago

We at Cupcake Construction Company are trying to streamline the ordering process. Last weekend was out first BUSY weekend, and we learned quite a bit from it. Hopefully, this week will go smoother!
We strive to give each customer the best experience - that includes the wait time, the assembly process, the customer service, and of course, the taste of the cupcakes. As with any brand-new concept, there are wrinkles to iron out, and we are trying to do that as quickly as possible. Thanks for checking us out!!! We appreciate the feedback.

roxersdog 7 years ago

I went to Cupcake Construction Company and my experience was horrible! The cupcakes were dry and the frosting was grainy. The employee's were training and there were only three cupcake flavors available. The owner came out and explained that everybody was still learning the ropes and there will usually be more flavors and toppings. This is usually when the owner says that these cupcakes will be on the house. But not at Cupcake Construction Company. I payed full price for a third of the expierence. I am very excited for Billy Vanilly because I LOVE their delicious cupcakes and service. There you actually get what you pay for.

Betty Bartholomew 7 years ago

I've had Billy Vanilly (before the name change) and thought their cupcakes were dry, mealy, and overpriced, though the frosting was good.

Haven't gotten down to CCC yet for a comparison.

Cimmy Redmond 7 years ago

Really? I thought the frosting was the best part of my red velvet cupcake.

Cimmy Redmond 7 years ago

No problem. The cupcakes really were fantastic!

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Retail Vacancy a problem eh?

Westside developers want it to be a problem in hopes all shoppers will come their way. The Chamber has not been a great deal of help. Always say yes to anything without in depth impact studies.

Too much retail and only so many retail dollars available in Lawrence,Kansas. Now retail dollars are spread so thin it generates economic displacement instead of economic growth. There is not a strong economy in Lawrence,Kansas.

So residents become subject to increased rates aka taxes of all sorts and inflated property values to generate tax dollars. Because the Lawrence over development has not been paying back for a few years. Yet new construction continues in spite of economic displacement.

Economic displacement simply can never generate enough sales to warrant high rent and high taxes.

Economic displacement is a huge drag on the economy.

Economic Impact studies are the tools to avoid economic displacement. Opinions from local government officials and the real estate industry cannot match Impact Studies.

Laissez-faire government,reckless decisions on growth and economic displacement all sleep in the same bed.

There is over development in the area of warehouses as well = a drag on the economy.

Speculation is for Wall Street not our local economy or OUR TAX DOLLARS!

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Incentives – NOT from taxpayers!

How much will this cost the local taxpayer? A back door quiet tax increase?

Is annexation expanding our tax base or our tax bills?

There is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned - annexation is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Annexation is the result of subsidies paid for by the American taxpayer. These range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects-like the billions we spend on new roads as well as smaller ones-like the tax-breaks that encourage businesses to move to the edge of town.

We've subsidized annexation at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of developers and the local real estate industry.

Steve Jacob 7 years ago

Do people really spend money downtown because it is nice looking? I can understand not going downtown if it looks trashy, but like to buy clothes or shoes? Just look at the other story above, another eatery taking over a retail store, I just don't see any draw from shoppers to support all these food joints, so no surprise that the city is building apartments and office space.

JustNoticed 7 years ago

Hey, I've got an idea. Let's close Mass and make it a pedestrian mall.

Cait McKnelly 7 years ago

Not unless you figure out a place for the street folks to go.

jackpot 7 years ago

works for Lost Wages on Fremont Street.

woodscolt 7 years ago

More upscale bars like the burger stand. More upscale bars like a cattle coral? hmmm. I suppose the next thing your going to try and convince me of is hamburgers are upscale food. hmmm

Sigmund 7 years ago

merrill (anonymous) says… "Economic Impact studies are the tools to avoid economic displacement. Opinions from local government officials and the real estate industry cannot match Impact Studies."

Neither governments nor Impact Studies by bearded man experts hired by governments (at the expense of other government services) can compete with individual entrepreneurs risking their capital and thousands of consumers who choose what will succeed and what will fail.

Sigmund 7 years ago

'Pretty well!' echoed Mr Bonney. 'It's the finest idea that was ever started. "United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company." Capital, five millions, in five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each." Why the very name will get the shares up to a premium in ten days.'

'And when they ARE at a premium,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, smiling . "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" by Charles Dickens, Mar. 1838 - Sept. 1839

Sigmund 7 years ago

I won't tell you that I love you Kiss or hug you, because I'm bluffin With my muffin, I'm not lying

"Poker Face" by Lady Gaga, 2008

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