Archive for Monday, October 22, 2012

Town Talk: Esquina to close in downtown Lawrence, St. Louis-style Italian restaurant to take its place; City Hall to pay company’s moving expenses; tougher tow regulations on tap for Lawrence

October 22, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• There’s a shake-up coming to downtown Lawrence’s fine dining scene. Esquina, 801 Massachusetts, is set to close at the end of the month, and a new Italian restaurant is set to take its place.

Word of Esquina’s demise came quickly. A tipster (thank you, by the way) notified me late Friday afternoon that servers of the restaurant had been told the restaurant soon would close. But before I could get the news confirmed, Esquina sent out a message to its own mailing list saying the restaurant’s last day in business would be Oct. 31.

The message doesn’t go into much detail about the decision of the partners — Robert and Molly Krause and Simon and Codi Bates — to close the restaurant, which recently had shifted from a Mediterranean-focused menu to something billed as “new American cuisine.” The group also owns the popular Burger Stand restaurants in Lawrence and Topeka, and the message says there are “new opportunities” for that business. No word on whether that means a new location or just something new at the current locations. Either way, it appears fans of that establishment need not fear.

As for the new restaurant set to occupy the Esquina space, it may be a major development for Italian food lovers. According to the message, a longtime leader at the famous Gitto’s “On the Hill” restaurant in St. Louis has struck a deal to open an Italian restaurant in the space.

The new Italian restaurant will be called Intorno, which means “round” in Italian, paying homage to the unique architecture of the Esquina building and its longtime tenant, the Round Corner Drug Store. The restaurant will feature “classic Italian fare” prepared in the same style and manner as found in the Charlie Gitto’s On the Hill restaurant in St. Louis.

For those of you who have never been to The Hill in St. Louis, it is a traditional Italian-American neighborhood. My wife and I went there a few summers ago, and although we did not go to Gitto’s, we can attest that there is some mighty fine Italian food in the district. (That was the summer vacation I was convinced my wife was trying to sell me by the pound.)

According to the message, Intorno will be run by Jim and Leslie Vaughn, who have relocated to Lawrence to be closer to family. I’m not sure what role Jim played at Gitto’s, but the message says he “spent years leading the kitchen” at the restaurant’s Hill location.

No word yet on when the restaurant may open, but I’ll try to track down the owners.

Also, no word yet on whether the St. Louis-style restaurant will serve giant meatballs. I’m uncertain that they will because it sure seems that folks in St. Louis are prone to choking on Giants. (For those of you who don’t get that, this is a baseball joke. If you are like me, you are not a baseball fan. We’re Royals fans.)

• Speaking of businesses on the move, I bet you didn’t know the city of Lawrence was in the moving business. As far as I know, the city hasn’t bought a fleet of those fancy yellow Ryder trucks or anything, but City Hall is set to provide a helping hand to a Lawrence-based business that is moving.

At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners are set to approve a request to provide up to $12,400 in moving expenses for EMR Inc., a Lawrence-based environmental firm that employs about 24 people at its headquarters near 31st and Haskell.

The company last month told City Hall leaders that EMR may have to move to another community because it is concerned the construction related to the South Lawrence Trafficway, which will run very close to their offices, may be too disruptive to the business.

City officials told EMR — which has about 250 employees in locations outside of Lawrence, but still lists Lawrence as its home base — that it would like to do something to convince the company to stay in Lawrence.

Well, EMR has found a suitable office location in the city. The company has signed a deal to move into the space at 2110 Delaware, which ironically is space that formerly used to house EN Engineering. If you remember, EN Engineering is the company that pulled out of Lawrence and took its 65 high-paying jobs to Olathe after local leaders and the building’s ownership group led by Lawrence businessman Duane Schwada couldn’t put together a deal to keep the company here. (Re-read this article to be reminded of what local leaders would or wouldn’t do to keep that engineering company.)

City officials apparently are intent on making sure that doesn’t happen again. EMR estimates it will have about $12,400 in hard moving expenses, such as paying the movers, relocating business signs, reprinting stationery and business cards, and paying rent on two locations in December. The city is offering to reimburse EMR for all of those expenses. In exchange, the company is being asked to sign an agreement saying EMR will keep its headquarters in Lawrence for at least three years.

City Hall staff members are recommending “due to the relatively small amount of the request,” that the issue not go before the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, which provides recommendations on incentives that can be offered to businesses.

This quick deal being brokered by the city will be cheered by some in the business community. There is a growing saying in the business community that Lawrence City Hall needs to operate more at the “speed of business” not the speed of government. This seems to be doing that, and losing EMR to another community would have brought up a whole new set of concerns about why Lawrence can’t keep good-paying engineering jobs in town.

The deal, though, may create questions for others. The largest may concern what type of precedent this sets. When does a business qualify to get some moving cash from City Hall? Do you have to have a couple dozen employees? Do you have to pay a certain average wage? (I don’t know what EMR’s Lawrence wages are.) Do you have to have threatened to move to another town? Do you have to have actually moved some employees out of Lawrence? (EMR, according to the city, moved about 10 Lawrence employees to Overland Park last year.)

The city memo on this deal doesn’t provide many details about when this type of incentive is appropriate. As someone who follows real estate in this town, I can tell you there are companies that move from one Lawrence location to another all the time. I would think some will be interested in obtaining some city moving cash. The city may want to come up with some criteria — or else buy some of those good-looking yellow trucks.

• There is one group of businesses that the city is looking to be a little less friendly to: shyster towing companies.

At their Tuesday meeting, commissioners are scheduled to adopt Douglas County’s new policy related to how emergency dispatchers determine which towing company to call when a motorist is involved in an accident and such.

Several articles in the Journal-World highlighted how a few towing companies in Lawrence had charged motorists involved in accidents more than $1,000 for what were deemed to be relatively simple tows.

In September, the Douglas County Commission approved a new set of standards for what levels of service a towing company must meet to be place on the county’s list of towing companies to be called to respond to accidents. The standards include limits on how much customers can be charged by towing companies that are called to the scene of an accident.

But the standards only apply when the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office seeks a tow for an accident scene. It does not apply when Lawrence police officers seek a tow at an accident.

City commissioners will change that at their Tuesday evening meeting. The city is being asked to approve a resolution that will allow the city to use the same tow company list and standards as the county does.

That should provide motorists involved in an accident in Lawrence some certainty about towing costs. I don’t have the final figures in front of me, but the county previously was contemplating setting a maximum tow charge of $150 per small vehicle and $250 for large vehicles, with a mileage charge of no more than $3 per mile. The county resolution also prohibits several types of surcharges that some towing companies have been known to charge.

Beware, though, the new regulations don’t apply to all types of tow services. The regulations only cover towing services made as part of the city and county’s “non-preference tow list.” That is a list maintained by the city and county’s emergency dispatchers. The dispatchers use the list to call towing companies when motorists involved in an accident, for example, have no preference on which towing company to use. Motorists under the new regulations still have the right to decide which towing company they want to call.


Topple 5 years, 8 months ago

Wonder if the health code violations reports affected their sales. I know I've stopped eating at a couple places after reading them.

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 8 months ago

I won't eat at The Burger Stand either for the very same reason. I doubt the owners run a clean restaurant at Burger Stand when they run Esquina just this side of 'filth'. They have had similar problems in the past too with previous restaurants. I don't trust their food at all anymore.

Pepe 5 years, 8 months ago

The health code violations are what made me stop going to Esquina. Same thing with El Mezcal.

JayhawkEye04 5 years, 8 months ago

I imagine it also has to do with the fact that they completely changed their concept from quick service unique tacos/burritos to a sit-down Spanish restaurant. They appeared to be much busier when it was the original Esquina--not the continuously changing Esquina from Spanish to New American. They took what looked like a winner into something that just didn't catch on. Too bad. The original Esquina was much more family friendly too.

Crystal Patterson 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree, I loved the original menu of Esquina...the last time I went there, I walked in, looked at the new menu and left. I loved the choose three tacos, once they changed their concept, I think they lost a lot of customers.

SnakeFist 5 years, 8 months ago

I completely agree. It was a great restaurant before the change to what seemed like "all mussels all the time". Its my understanding that the chef pushed for the change. Lots of important lessons here (1) if ain't broke, don't fix it, and (2) don't let your chef get too carried away with radically changing the menu (see lesson #1).

Emily Hadley 5 years, 8 months ago

I stopped going to Esquina because the food went from a complex, flavorful, and well-presented treat served by friendly employees to a bland, sloppy disappointment silently tossed on my table by someone running past, never to be seen again.

dncinnanc 5 years, 8 months ago

Charlie Gitto's in St Louis is delish... Ate there right before he partnered up with Mike Garozzo in KC to open Mike & Charlie's. Menu was more refined than Paisano's, but still featured familiar items of the "Italian comfort food" variety. This should be a great addition to the downtown scene!

zackattackku 5 years, 8 months ago

My Great Aunt lives across the street from Charlie Gitto's on the Hill in St. Louis.

irvan moore 5 years, 8 months ago

it's hard to believe but the restaurant i miss most from the last 10 years is furrs

Armored_One 5 years, 8 months ago

chuckling Yeah, you aren't the only one that misses Furr's, and I have absolutely no reason why I miss it... I just do.

Clovis Sangrail 5 years, 8 months ago

I miss being the youngest customer in the place, and I was about 50 when Furr's closed.

Frank A Janzen 5 years, 8 months ago

Me, too. It was nice to be able to finish my meal and just hang out without worrying about having to leave.

livinginlawrence 5 years, 8 months ago

Tis strange to hear these complaints about the Burger Stand...I have always ordered mine medium well and have never been disappointed. Quite the opposite, in fact--I've always been very pleased with what I get there.

tomatogrower 5 years, 8 months ago

So one company moved, because the SLT wasn't being built. And the other company doesn't want to be where they are, because it would disrupt them, and they want us to pay for them to move, even though they don't employ a lot of Lawrence citizens? I'll bet they are also "We built this!" Romney supporters too. What a crock.

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 8 months ago

$12k is petty cash to the City so it doesn't need to be reviewed??

John Hamm 5 years, 8 months ago

I was in agreement until the smack at Romney - too bad you can't put your Liberalism on hold for a reasonable comment.

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm sorry is The Mad GREEK selling Italian food now?

Evan Ridenour 5 years, 8 months ago

I wasn't aware what the Mad Greek sold was even considered "food."

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

I read all through this thread, there was so much discussion of Italian restaurants, and no one has mentioned the name:

Olive Garden.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

That could be! Last time I went to Olive Garden in Topeka, I went for the all you can eat soup and salad special at lunch time. The problem was I ordered coffee also without looking at the price, and it must have been pretty expensive. For sure it wasn't included in the special, and it ended up that by the time I added a tip, the total was enough to just forget about a "special". It might not be such a bad deal if you don't order a beverage, I'm not really sure.

The staff was nice though. I think I'll be back one of these days, because a friend of mine has never been to an Olive Garden, and would like to go sometime. Same with Red Lobster, I wouldn't go for myself, but she'd like to try it. I suspect it's mostly just for the adventure and the claim to have been there. Then after that, you'd have a reference to compare a really good restaurant to, I suppose.

But the real reason I brought up Olive Garden is that there was sure a lot of discussion about it when there was some talk about them building a new restaurant on Iowa Street.

dougfirst 5 years, 8 months ago

I think the food at Paisano's is terrible. They try to copy dishes from other great Italian restaurants but do a very poor job of it. We have tried to develop an Olive Garden several times and have had no luck with the city.

Megan Tugman 5 years, 8 months ago

If we're talking Italian, someone has to mention Basil Leaf on 6th. They're great food for reasonable prices and huge portions!

bornon7 5 years, 8 months ago

Ate there once. Noodles over cooked and sauce was cold.

CardHawkFan 5 years, 8 months ago

Hey now, easy with the pot shots at the Cards!

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

Genovese deserves a mention as well as 715. Both have very good food. For the best , most authentic Italian food around, I suggest a drive to KC and visit Lidia's. Not Americanized. A little pricey but fantastic. Great for special occasions. Our extended family visiting from Tuscany were impressed by the food and the staff.

08Champs 5 years, 8 months ago

Not to split hairs, but there's Italian food (true to the various regions in Italy), Italian-American food (what immigrants prepared when they did not have access to some of their familiar ingredients and had to adjust). Then there's just bad imitations of both (i.e. Olive Garden, Paisano's, Fazoli's). Genovese is probably the best option in this area for regional Italian, in my opinion. If your craving for " Italian" requires only lasagne or fettucine alfredo to be satisfied (along with a goopy Caesar salad and "endless doughy breadsticks"), then many places will do a decent enough job. But if you're looking for fresh pasta, seafood or handmade sausage, and seasonal vegetables, and dense bread with crust that is chewy yet crunchy at the same time, then your search will go a bit further. I'm looking forward to trying out Intorno - because I like a good lasagne as much as the next person, but more, I love the adventure of eating a handmade pasta that might be prepared traditionally in Southern Italy, or a creamy polenta dish from the North.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

I know what you mean. My wife calls those Red Sauce Restaurants. The best pasta comes out of my Marcato. My wife is fluent in Italian, the Language as well as the recipes. Wheatfields Has the bread. Fresh mozzarella from my Daughters farm. We make sauces year round.I am lucky. Very labor intensive but we have help. No problem getting the grand kids to volunteer when Nona Linda starts cooking.

08Champs 5 years, 8 months ago

I SO want to meet Nona - Wheatfields can definitely cover the bread concerns, you're right. I think I'll break out the pasta machine this weekend!

Thomas Bryce Jr. 5 years, 8 months ago

They looked into it but could not meet Regulations to sell commercially. Very small farm. We use everything we make and if there is any extra she has bartered with that a little in the past. They make Ricotta also as well as Peccorino and a real good Manchego. They really miss the Water Buffalo Milk that you can get in Italy. The fresh cow's milk works well, but there IS a difference.They bring Italian Cheeses back every time they visit. And the occasional Bottle Of Strega.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 8 months ago

GTFO. Pizza Hut doesn't even qualify as pizza, let alone Italian.

msezdsit 5 years, 8 months ago

I always thought I would check out esquina so I best hurry up. At least I can say I won't miss it since I never ate there.

matthew2600 5 years, 8 months ago

The cashier at Esquina one time I went there was the most out of it of any food service worker I've ever seen anywhere. I liked the food ok but the help was seriously on something.

walterbradley 5 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the basil leaf shout outs from the owner..Though I can't really label us Italian food we are more world cuisine. We just base it off of noodles. I will say we have some of the best pastas around and try and stay creative and unique, speaking of which our fall winter menu comes out soon check it bad that space is already taken would of loved it for myself to show what we can really do oh well I'll keep looking..I agree with esquina comments I dined there numerous times in hopes of being impressed, as far as Italian Genovese has my vote 715 not so much I like my food seasoned, and Lydias hands down amazing authentic italian food...Thanks hope to see some of you at the gas stop pasta shop soon be well, and good luck to the new guys in town I look forward to dining there when they open

LadyJ 5 years, 8 months ago

Chad, do you know what is going on with the Miller & Midyett Real Estate building? Are they going out of business? I see something on a sign about a children's party place.

JackMcKee 5 years, 8 months ago

I had lunch at Esquina a few weeks ago. It was very good. I'm sorry to see it gone. I am excited to get what sounds like a very good Italian restaurant, however.

classclown 5 years, 8 months ago

"There is one group of businesses that the city is looking to be a little less friendly to: shyster towing companies."

Careful there Chad. Just the other day one of the Lawrence thin skinned got a comment removed because it referred to someone as a shyster. Apparently that word is racist now..

somedude20 5 years, 8 months ago

Yes, even though I listed the definition of shyster for him, as did others(and had no idea that people believed it was anti-semitic), the person still stuck with his belief and LJW took down the post. So, if I believe that the word "brown" is offensive and state so, I guess "brown" is a bad word now. I, for one, hate when society has to come down to the lowest common denominator

classclown 5 years, 8 months ago


If we're talking Italian, someone has to mention Basil Leaf on 6th. They're great food for reasonable prices and huge portions!

October 22, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.


Blech! That food is absolutely nasty! If you're going to eat food bought at a gas station, go for the microwave burritos. Much better eating than that Basil Leaf garbage.

bornon7 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree! Nasty! Threw it out...couldn't eat it.

juma 5 years, 8 months ago

Esquina? the place sucks. went there when first opened. asked for a beer and was told to drink some imported s..t. asked why they don't have local beers and was told 'that was not their style' i told them that it was not my style to spend money there. glad to see them gone!!

PhilChiles 5 years, 8 months ago

Holy cow, do you people like ANY restaurants? There sure is a lot of whining on this article. I just had a great meal at Esquina the other night for a special occasion and I couldn't find a thing to complain about. Friendly service, great meal, etc. This reminds me of the articles about Local Burger, where everyone hopped on the bandwagon to kick them while they were down. It's ok to not like a restaurant but I'm always amazed at the venom that comes put of people when a business closes down.

Jeff Cuttell 5 years, 8 months ago

If you like Italian food, you might want to try Anthony's in downtown Eudora. It's reasonably priced and there is a Lawrence Deal on it that started today. Here is the link.....

oldbaldguy 5 years, 8 months ago

My favorite Italian places: Salvatore's In Omaha, any restaurant on Arsenal Hill, Danilo's in Pirmasens, Germany, Lidia's, the old Italian Gardens in KCMO, Cascone's.

RDE87 5 years, 8 months ago

I hope this new Italian restaurant puts Pissano’s out of business. That place is a dump.

cowboy 5 years, 8 months ago

looking forward to Intorno , hope they have the full menu from "on the hill" . Veal , Please don't dum it down for students and make it affordable , good italian dining is not cheap and a we have enough affordable crappy restaurants in lawrence , pretty much all of them. No waitpersons with dirty sneakers on and a wrinkled shirt. hoping for a good restaurant !

sadpanda 5 years, 8 months ago

I will miss it, more than anything. Esquina R.I.P.

cabocrazed 5 years, 7 months ago

We were fortunate to eat there tonight and it was the best classic Italian I had ever eaten. I had Ossobuco - it brought a tear to my eye it was so good. We also enjoyed clams and linguini, spagetti Bolognese, classic St. Louis toasted ravioli, and tiramisu. To the owners - welcome to Lawrence and best of luck! You will do well!

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